The brain is the center of the human nervous system and our most complex organ containing billions of cells including neurons and astrocytes as well as supporting blood vessels. Each neuron in the brain is a little information control center connected by synapses to several thousand other neurons. The job of brain neurons is simple, to transmit and coordinate sensory and movement information, basically to serve as the control center for the human body. Neurons are not unlike the hundreds of other types of cells in our body in that they have a membrane that is rich in lipids. Some membrane lipids provide more of a structural role, which others providing more functional and metabolic roles. The brain is rich in DHA is short for docosahexaenoic acid, a special fat mostly found in the oil-rich fatty parts of fish and other marine life. DHA can make up about 10% of the non-water weight of brain and higher levels in the brain appear to allow for optimal blood flow during cognitive tasks.6
At present there is growing support of the positive impact of omega-3 fat, especially DHA, on cognitive development. One key question researchers are looking to answer is whether fish oil can make you smarter? This notion is based on research from universities around the globe supportive that certain nutrients, especially DHA are absolutely critical for healthy brain development very early in the lifespan as well as maximizing the maintenance of cognitive capabilities towards the end.1-5 For instance:
· University of Pittsburgh – Researchers reported a significant relationship between omega 3 consumption in children and cognitive scores in children ages 6-16, especially in the females.2
· Tufts University – Researchers reported cognitive improvements in older women taking DHA and lutein supplements, which is supported by related research.3
Regular consumption is critical to optimize brain levels and this takes time, several months perhaps to optimize brain levels. Furthermore, it makes sense that the best responders are infants and smaller children as DHA can get into freshly developing tissue, while for older children and healthy adults will take longer and the benefit can be less dramatic unless they are deficient.7
1. Dunstan JA, Simmer K, Dixon G, Prescott SL. Cognitive assessment of children at age 2(1/2) years after maternal fish oil supplementation in pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2008 Jan;93(1):F45-50.
2. Lassek WD, Gaulin SJ. Sex differences in the relationship of dietary Fatty acids to cognitive measures in american children. Front Evol Neurosci. 2011;3:5.
3. Johnson EJ, McDonald K, Caldarella SM, Chung HY, Troen AM, Snodderly DM. Cognitive findings of an exploratory trial of docosahexaenoic acid and lutein supplementation in older women. Nutr Neurosci. 2008 Apr;11(2):75-83
4. Yurko-Mauro K. Cognitive and cardiovascular benefits of docosahexaenoic acid in aging and cognitive decline. Curr Alzheimer Res. 2010 May;7(3):190-6.
5. Yurko-Mauro K, McCarthy D, Rom D, Nelson EB, Ryan AS, Blackwell A, Salem N Jr, Stedman M; MIDAS Investigators. Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimers Dement.2010 Nov;6(6):456-64.
6. Jackson PA, Reay JL, Scholey AB, Kennedy DO. Docosahexaenoic acid-rich fish oil modulates the cerebral hemodynamic response to cognitive tasks in healthy young adults. Biol Psychol. 2012 Jan;89(1):183-90.
7. Kennedy DO, Jackson PA, Elliott JM, Scholey AB, Robertson BC, Greer J, Tiplady B, Buchanan T, Haskell CF. Cognitive and mood effects of 8 weeks’ supplementation with 400 mg or 1000 mg of the omega-3 essential fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in healthy children aged 10-12 years. Nutr Neurosci. 2009 Apr;12(2):48-56.