Can Supplementation with DHA Omega-3 Boost Your Memory?
Docosahexanoic Acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid and a key structural component of the human cerebral cortex. It is present at high concentrations in the brain at specialized junctions between nerve cells where neural transmission takes place. The adult human brain contains up to 500 trillion of these junctions, which makes DHA pretty important stuff!
In an article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists in the United Kingdom and in New Zealand announced their findings that men (ages 17-45) who took 1.16 grams of DHA per day for six months experienced a 20 percent increase in reaction times. Moreover, women who took the same amount of DHA developed a better working memory as measured by a battery of cognitive tests1.
These results are consistent with other studies; namely, the Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) Oxford Learning and Behavior (DOLAB) study2. Here, scientists studied the effects of DHA on reading, behaviour and cognition in children aged seven to nine. The greatest improvement in reading ability was seen in the children with the poorest initial performance (≤ 10th centile), whereas minor improvements were seen in those in the intermediate (≤ 20th centile) and negligible treatment effects were seen in children in the sample as a whole (≤ 33rd centile).
Fatty acids made simple
Fatty acids (FAs) are long, chain-like molecules. One end of the chain (-COOH) is considered the beginning, or alpha (α), end while the other end (-CH3) is the tail, or omega (ω) end of the chain. The omega-3 fatty acids have a double bond at the third carbon atom from the ω-carbon. The structural features of the DHA molecule consist of a chain of 22 carbon atoms and six double bonds. It is the presence of these double bonds that allows DHA to be classed as a polyunsaturated FA.
In addition to being classified as an omega-3 fatty acid because of its molecular structure, DHA is also one of the essential fatty acids (EFAs). This means they are required by the body for biological processes other than as a source of energy. They must be ingested as part of the diet because they cannot be synthesized by the human body.
Omega-3 FAs and health
The omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA, have attracted a lot of attention in health and nutrition circles in recent years. Oils from cold water oceanic fish are especially rich in DHA and this is why we are encouraged to eat at least three portions of oily fish each week.
What this means for you
These findings have public health implications. With the Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age, the incidence cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease is forecast to dramatically increase. These studies provide further evidence for eating three portions of cold water fish each week at all ages. If fish is not a big part of your diet you should consider using a DHA fish oil supplement.
1Stonehouse W, et al, “DHA supplementation improved both memory and reaction time in healthy young adults: a randomized controlled trial.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2013.
2Richardson, AJ, et al, “Docosahexaenoic acid for reading, cognition and behavior in children aged 7-9 years: a randomized, controlled trial (the DOLAB Study).” PLoS One. 2012.