Many people take fish oil supplements as a precaution: to protect against heart disease, joint disease and brain disease. Numerous studies have indicated that having sufficient omega-3 in your diet is crucial for optimal brain health and functioning. But most of these studies have focussed on either the middle aged and older or young children. What about our healthy young adults aged 18 to 25?
With two young adults in our own family I recognise some of the demands today's society puts on them. They work hard, study hard (and play hard). Sometimes their diet leaves a little (and sometimes a lot) to be desired.
Being brought up with a mother who may border on the fanatical sometimes, about eating enough vegetables and fruit and not living on fast food or soft drink, they have been exposed to lots of information about what is good or bad for their brain, and they do on the whole eat quite well. But would they benefit from taking fish oil capsules in addition to eating fresh fish a couple of times a week?
Being at the top of their "cognitive game" in terms of youth they can use their brains well. The working memory is in the prefrontal cortex and is vital for problem solving and reasoning. It is a particularly energy hungry part of the brain so having enough of the essential nutrients is critical for best function.
A recent study has shown a positive correlation between omega-3 fatty acids and working memory in 18 to 25 years olds, showing that diet plays an important role in cognitive ability or thinking skills.
How it exerts this effect isn't understood.
For the research the group of 11 young adults underwent PET brain scans and working memory tests before and after 6 months of treatment with omega -3 supplements.
The results noted increased plasma omega -3 levels and improved performance in working memory skills in the group.
What isn't known either is whether the benefits of improved working memory would be maintained over time and whether continued supplementation would be necessary.
What is the relevance of these findings?
1. Diet (including omega-3) is critical for good cognition.
2. Young brains finish maturing around the mid twenties, so ensuring good functionality at the time of brain maturation is probably important for good future brain function.
3. Young adults are at risk of certain psychiatric illnesses including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Having a low level of omega-3 may contribute to this risk.
So, the good news is that in this household at least, Mum will be continuing her mantra of "eat your fish" and "take your fish oil supplements".
Narendran R, Frankle WG, Mason NS, Muldoon MF, Moghaddam B (2012) Improved Working Memory but No Effect on Striatal Vesicular Monoamine Transporter Type 2 after Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Supplementation. PLoS ONE 7(10): e46832. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0046832