The possible benefits of omega 3 fatty acids for cognitive ability in older people have been studied in depth. Little has been known about the effect of omega 3s on memory for younger people. But a new study, the first of its kind, suggests that omega 3s can be even more effective at helping young adults significantly improve memory.
Maximizing memory potential
Omega 3 research on memory improvement has been limited to studying the elderly or people with medical conditions until now. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh addressed the effect of omega 3s on what is considered the period in life with the highest level of cognitive function. They found that it could be possible to maximize the potential of memory with specialized nutrition earlier in life.
PET scans and n-back tests
The research team recruited a group of healthy young adults aged 18-25 and boosted their omega 3 intake with fish oil supplements for six months. Before the trial, participants had blood samples analyzed and underwent a positron emission tomography (PET) scan to measure blood flow and metabolic activity in their brains.
Following the PET scan, participants took a working memory test called an “n-back test that uses cards with a series of numbers and letters in succession. Participants had to keep track of what they saw on the previous cards up to three cards back.
Study leader Bita Moghaddam said that even before the supplementation regimen began, omega 3 levels in the blood obtained via diet already correlated positively with working memory. After 6 months on Lovaza, an Omega-3 supplement approved by the Federal Drug Administration, participants were pricked, scanned and n-back tested again. Memory function showed continued improvement beyond what is considered normal.
Raising peak memory
The researchers were also hoping the PET scans would confirm their hypothesis that boosting omega 3 intake affected a neurotransmitter associated with memory and a protein associated with decision making. But the imaging studies were unable to clarify the exact working memory mechanisms enhanced by omega 3.
Even so, the study strongly suggests that younger people can further enhance their working memory by increasing their omega 3 intake, even during a period of their lives when memory strength is peaking.
Omega 3 foods
Lovaza is a drug prescribed by doctors to reduce blood triglyceride levels. But the supermarket has plenty of whole and fortified foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish such as halibut, herring, salmon and sardines are excellent sources of DHA and EPA omega 3s.
Also look for fortified juice and milk, as well as eggs from chickens fed omega-3s in their grain. Bread and pasta are commonly enriched with omega-3s and green leafy vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, spinach and watercress give you lots of fiber and other antioxidants as well.