DHA Boosts Learning and Memory in Older Adults
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats, important for the proper function of the heart and brain, and we must get them from our diets because the human body cannot synthesize them. A small percentage of the shorter omega 3 fats found in seeds can be converted into the longer-chain fats, notably DHA. Even if sufficient short chain omega-3 is consumed, the problem is that this conversion (into DHA) can decline with age and vary between individuals making it impossible to guarantee optimal levels throughout life, even with a good diet. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is a long-chain omega-3 fatty acid, crucial for early brain development, and reduced DHA intake and blood DHA are associated with age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease.1
A recent study tested whether DHA supplements could improve brain function in adults with mild age-related cognitive decline: subjects were given either 900 mg/day DHA or placebo for six months, and learning and memory tests were performed before and after the supplementation period; the DHA group did indeed show improvements in learning and memory.2,3 The most important message of this study is that DHA is effective when taken preventively. The subjects in this study had mild cognitive impairment; in contrast, a similar study published earlier this year tested the effects of DHA on subjects who had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and did not show any benefit. 4 If there were measurable learning and memory differences in subjects who already had mild cognitive impairment, it is reasonable to assume that the benefits of supplementing with DHA preventively, for longer periods and before any symptoms arise, would be even more effective. Alzheimer's and other types of dementia are devastating to both patients and their loved ones, but we can protect ourselves with excellent nutrition and intelligent supplementation. Taking a DHA supplement assures that all of us can maintain sufficient quantities of this valuable fat in brain tissue as we age. Taking even 100 mg of DHA per day, over time, has been shown to normalize cell membrane stores of DHA.5
Most cognitive impairment is not age-related, it is lifestyle-related. Over many years, the Western diet combined with high blood pressure inflicts a great deal of damage on the brain's delicate small vessels. Keeping your blood pressure in the favorable range is an important step toward maintaining your brain function as you age.
According to this research, taking a DHA supplement regularly (to complement a high-nutrient diet) will help us to remain thinking clearly into old age.
Although fish and fish oils contain DHA, the safest and most sustainable form of DHA is derived from algae. A little DHA each day may be important for your long-term health.
1. Yurko-Mauro, K., Cognitive and cardiovascular benefits of docosahexaenoic acid in aging and cognitive decline. Curr Alzheimer Res, 2010. 7(3): p. 190-6.
2. Yurko-Mauro, K., et al., Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline. Alzheimers Dement, 2010.
3. DHA Improves Memory and Cognitive Function in Older Adults, Study Suggests. ScienceDaily, 2010.
4. Quinn, J.F., et al., Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation and cognitive decline in Alzheimer disease: a randomized trial. JAMA, 2010. 304(17): p. 1903-11.
5. Geppert, J., et al., Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation in vegetarians effectively increases omega-3 index: a randomized trial. Lipids, 2005. 40(8): p. 807-14.