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Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acid DHA improves cognitive performance in healthy adults

A recent study indicates that supplementation of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA in healthy young adults with low dietary DHA intakes may improve memory and reaction time.

Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is important for brain function, and its status is dependent on dietary intakes. Therefore, individuals who consume diets low in omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acids may cognitively benefit from DHA supplementation. Sex and apolipoprotein E genotype (APOE) affect cognition and may modulate the response to DHA supplementation.

It is known that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA is important for neural development, and much research has been conducted regarding the benefit of DHA in elderly populations.  In a recent study, scientists investigated whether a DHA supplement improves cognitive performance such as memory and reaction time in healthy young adults and whether there was a different response between genders.

The study included 176 adult men and women between the ages of 18 and 45. The participants were non-smoking and had self-reported low dietary DHA intakes. The subjects were randomized to receive either a supplement of DHA (1.16 grams) or a placebo daily for six months. Cognitive performance was analyzed using battery of tests including episodic and working memory, attention, reaction time of episodic and working memory, and attention and processing speed. The tests were administered before and after the treatment period.

At the end of the study, when compared with the placebo, those who received DHA showed improvement in the reaction time of episodic and working memory.  DHA improved episodic memory in women and reaction times of working memory in men.

This is the first study to show that DHA supplementation may improve memory and reaction time of memory in healthy non-smoking adults whose diets are habitually low in DHA. It also indicates that response to supplementation may be modulated by sex.

Source:
Welma Stonehouse et al. Am J Clin Nutr May 2013. 97(5):1134-43.

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