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Omega-3 Supplements May Not Provide Brain Benefits

Omega-3 Supplements May Not Provide Brain Benefits

According to a new study, omega-3s may not provide as many mental and cognitive benefits as previously thought.

Researchers looked at the results of three large studies comparing the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements with sunflower oil, olive oil, and margarine. The studies included  3,536 people over age 60 in trials lasting between six and 40 months.

Participants who took the omega-3 supplement did not score higher in standard mental state examinations or in memory and verbal fluency tests than those given the placebo.

Study report co-author Dr. Alan Dangour was quoted: “From these studies, there doesn’t appear to be any benefit for cognitive health for older people of taking omega-3 supplements.” However, Dr. Dangour also noted that the studies were short-term in nature, and a longer study period may be needed to see the effects of omega-3 supplements.

It certainly seems more research is needed on the health benefits of omega-3 supplements, as these study results (if replicated) could contradicts the results of previous research suggesting omega-3s may lower Alzheimers risk and help mitigate the negative effects of fructose on memory.

However, if the research holds up, the study results may present another compelling reason to ditch the fish oil supplements, which have previously been shown to have fewer heart health benefits than once thought.

Image Credit: hitthatswitch/Flickr

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3 comments on “Omega-3 Supplements May Not Provide Brain Benefits”

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6 Years Ago

I read over the study and cannot find any reference to a measured dose of the suppliments or the placebo. Am I missing it? That could make all the difference.

Design Fluff
6 Years Ago

Thank you for bringing this study to light, Jennifer. I would not, however, throw out your fish supplements just yet. This study has it's obvious flaws. First, they used olive oil, margarine, and sunflower oil to study the effects of omega 3's upon the brain and came to a conclusion that you could throw out your fish oil for cognitive health! How anyone can come to such a conclusion is beyond me. Fish oil, olive oil, margarine (ESPECIALLY), and sunflower oil are not the same thing. First, lets start with olive oil. Olive oil is on average 10% linoleic acid (an omega-6 oil) and less than 1% linolenic acid (an omega-3 oil), therefore the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 is 10:1 on average. Our consumption of Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio, according to Merck, is suppose to be about 10:1. Although, there are conflicting studies and newer evidence says it should be maybe 5:1 and some studies say 2:1. This sounds great for Olive oil since it comes already in that 10:1 ratio, but Americans eat many processed foods loaded with Omega 6-s and very little food high in Omega-3's. An improper balance and excess in omega-6 fatty acids promotes inflammation and can contribute to the development of diseases, such as coronary heart disease, cancer and arthritis. A typical Western diet may contain 11 to 30 times more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids, contributing to the rising rate of inflammatory disorders in the United States. Vegetable oils touted as "heart healthy" such as soybean, safflower, sunflower, corn and cottonseed oil are found in almost every food that we eat. Very few of us cook from scratch. Many do not realize the high omega-6 and low omega-3 fats profile in these oils (as much as 200:1). The typical American diet is very heavy in Omega-6 fats therefore NEEDS the Omega-3's to bring ones body back in balance. For this reason the typical American would need to consume a larger amount of Omega 3-s to balance out the high amount of Omega-6's they already consume in a typical western diet. We know nothing of what diet these test subjects have and know little about what the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3's they have. Also, as pointed out above, Olive oil can hardly be a go to source of Omega 3's when the ratio is 10:1 (Omega-6 to Omega-3)! Margarine is hardly natural so should be thrown out of the study period, in my opinion. Margarine is composed of vegetable or soybean oil, which is high in Omega-6 fats. How is that even used in this study? I guess because they added in some Omega-3's for good measure so they are using it in this study? Sunflower oil doesn't have any essential Omega 3's from my research, it does contain plenty of Omega-6's , though. According to Dr. Mercola: "These two types of fat, omega-3 and omega-6, are both essential for human health. However, the typical American consumes far too many omega-6 fats in their diet while consuming very low levels of omega-3. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 1:1. Our ancestors evolved over millions of years on this ratio. Today, though, our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 averages from 20:1 to 50:1! That spells serious danger for you, and as is now (finally!) being reported throughout even the mainstream health media, lack of omega-3 from Krill Oil is one of the most serious health issues plaguing contemporary society. The primary sources of omega-6 are corn, soy, canola, safflower and sunflower oil; these oils are overabundant in the typical diet, which explains our excess omega-6 levels. Avoid or limit these oils. Omega-3, meanwhile, is typically found in flaxseed oil, walnut oil, and fish. By far, the best type of omega-3 fats are those found in that last category, fish. That's because the omega-3 in fish is high in two fatty acids crucial to human health, DHA and EPA. These two fatty acids are pivotal in preventing heart disease, cancer, and many other diseases. The human brain is also highly dependent on DHA - low DHA levels have been linked to depression, schizophrenia, memory loss, and a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's. Researchers are now also linking inadequate intake of these omega-3 fats in pregnant women to premature birth and low birth weight, and to hyperactivity in children." Fish, particularly large fatty fish such as salmon, contain large amounts of two omega-3 fatty acids -- eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA, and docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA. None of the "omega-3 sources" used for the study contain even remotely enough Omega-3's to draw an accurate conclusion. Lets see them balance the intake of different subjects with a 10:1 ration, 5:1, 4:1, and 2:1, and 1:1, using Omega 3's from fatty fish and then see the outcome of the study.

Design Fluff
23 Jun 2012

edit: Some sources claim a small amount of Omega 3's when compared to Omega-6's in sunflower oil, and some claim there are none. Again, it is not enough to be considered a good source of Omega-3's to use in this study. Let's also see them do the study with flax and walnut oil, again, balancing out the consumption of Omega -6's to Omega -3's in the test subjects diets in a more favorable 10:1, 5:1, 4:1, and 2:1, and 1:1 ratio.

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