Higher DHA Blood Levels Associated with Better Cognitive Functioning in Middle Age

July 12, 2010


Serum Phospholipid Docosahexaenoic Acid is Associated with Cognitive Functioning during Middle Adulthood
Muldoon , M.F. et al., J. Nutrition, 140: 848-853 , 2010
Ctr. for Clinical Pharmacology , Dept. of Psychiatry , School of Medicine, Univ. Of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA


There is considerable evidence linking greater intakes of DHA (plus EPA) omega-3 with better early brain development. Much of the research in this area has been directed to infancy, childhood , and adolescence . However, relatively little attention has been given to middle-aged adults in this regard. The present study was conducted on 280 community dwelling adults (between 35-54 yrs of age) who were free of major neuropsychiatric disorders and not taking fish oil supplements. Their omega-3 status , reflective of dietary intakes of such fatty acids , was determined by measuring the levels of these in serum phospholipid from blood samplings. Cognitive functioning was assessed by a battery of neuropsychological tests.

Significant and generally positive relationships were found between having higher DHA levels in the blood serum phospholipid and better performance on cognitive testing of nonverbal reasoning and mental flexibility , working memory, and vocabulary. Interestingly, no such relationships were found for the other omega-3 fatty acids – EPA or LNA (alpha-linolenic acid). The authors concluded that DHA is associated with major aspects of cognitive performance in non-patient adults (below 55 yrs of age) and that DHA is related to brain health throughout the lifespan.

Dr. Holub's Comments:

The present findings support the concept that DHA favorably influences cognitive performance throughout the life-span and that a continual supply of DHA (from direct consumption via DHA-containing foods and supplements if necessary) is important for optimal brain health and functioning. While a very limited conversion of LNA (from plant food sources) to DHA can occur, this conversion is highly variable and unpredictable between individuals.

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