Fish oil supplements: do they really help our brain?

The answer appears to be “yes”.

I am often asked about the role of fish oil supplements and whether we should be all taking them on a regular basis. Some challenge my suggestion that we should all be eating fish several times a week for our cognitive health. “But where is the proof that eating fish or taking fish oil capsules can protect your brain” they ask.

A large number of studies from around the world have now supported the positive findings indicating the benefit to memory and cognition we gain from eating fish. Fish provides us with an excellent source of Omega 3, an essential fatty acid that we can only derive from our diet. The brain uses Omega 3 in forming part of the cell membrane that surrounds every neuron or brain cell. In other words it is a vital component contributing to the structural integrity of all our neurons.

But many people struggle for a number of reasons to eat enough fresh fish. Taking fish oil as capsules or in liquid form appears to be a suitable alternative. Some fish oil manufacturers claim taking fish oil is good for cognitive health.

But is there proof? Findings from a new study reported at the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease in Paris recently, suggest that taking fish oil does indeed confer protection to the brain against cognitive decline.

This was demonstrated in two ways. Firstly those taking fish oil regularly were found to maintain a higher brain volume, especially in the area of the cortex and hippocampus: two areas concerned with memory and thinking.

The other finding was that those taking fish oil supplements, tested higher on baseline cognitive functioning tests throughout and after the study.

The study included 819 individuals who had normal cognition, mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. Of this group, 117 subjects reported taking fish oil supplements regularly.

It was noted, that the benefits were only a positive association for those without cognitive impairment. This confirms previous findings, that fish oil supplementation is of no clinical benefit once cognitive impairment is present. It was also only a positive association in those individuals who were APOE4 negative. So there is a genetic influence on the outcome.

In the general population, testing for APOE4 is not routine, one reason being that testing positive for the gene has no bearing on whether the gene will or will not be expressed and 60% of those with Alzheimer’s disease do not carry this gene.

So should we be taking fish oil supplements? Regardless of whether we know our APOE4 status or not, it appears that that are substantial potential benefits to do so. I have been using fish oil supplements now for a number of years and intend to continue.

What about you? Do you take supplements and if not, does this research persuade you to consider using them?

Ref: Lifespan (2011, August 17). Fish oil's impact on cognition and brain structure identified in new study. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 28, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2011/08/110817120220.htm