Fish Oil May Preserve Brain Function, Improve Memory

  • Newer studies are discovering that the role of fish oil in our diet is broader than once thought. The omega-3 fatty acids naturally found in fatty fish, but often taken in capsule form, have long been considered of major importance for heart health. Lately, scientists have discovered that these omega-3s are of great benefit to our brain, as well, especially as we age.


    Researchers from Rhode Island Hospital recently published their current study results, which concluded that people who regularly use fish oil supplements were likely to have significantly less reduction in cognitive decline and brain atrophy as they age than a control group.

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    The study, led by Lori Daiello, PharmD of the Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center at Rhode Island Hospital, examined the relationship between fish oil supplement use and indicators of cognitive decline. The study used participants taking part in the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI).


    Now in its third phase, ADNI is studying the rate of change of cognition, function, brain structure and biomarkers in 150 elderly controls, 450 subjects with mild cognitive impairment, 150 with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease and a new group of 100 people with significant, yet not advanced, memory complaints.


    According to Daiello, the study found that fish oil supplement use during the study was associated with significantly lower rates of cognitive decline as measured by the Alzheimer's Disease Assessment Scale (ADAS-cog) and the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE), though this benefit was observed only for the participants who presented no signs of dementia at the time of enrollment in the Initiative. 

    Daiello said, “Serial brain imaging conducted during this study showed that the participants with normal cognition who reported taking fish oil supplements demonstrated less brain shrinkage in key neurological areas, compared to those who did not use the supplements."


    The findings attributed to fish oil supplements were not observed in people who carry the best-studied genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease known as APOE-4. These gene carriers are at an increased risk for younger onset Alzheimer’s.


    Earlier study also found less brain shrinkage with fish oil supplementation


    James Pottala is an assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls and principal biostatistician at Health Diagnostic Laboratory Inc. in Richmond, Virginia. Pottala has previously reported on a study that he led, which also showed more brain volume in those who have higher levels of omega-3s. In this study, researchers looked at 1,111 post-menopausal women from the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study.


    Results of this study showed that women who had high levels of omega-3 fatty acids retained more brain volume than those with lower levels of omega-3s.


    Concentrating on preventing Alzheimer’s rather than depending on a cure was a key concern of the recent 2014 Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Copenhagen. Scientists attending the conference highlighted the emerging knowledge that one in three people who may develop Alzheimer's could delay Alzheimer’s symptoms if they maintain a healthy lifestyle.


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    Perhaps we can add to their recommendations of exercise, diet and significant challenges to our brain one capsule of a quality fish oil supplement daily. More research will be needed to shore up the results of these studies. But it makes sense to do anything we can to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s symptoms, or actually prevent the disease, while we wait for a pharmaceutical cure for those who still develop Alzheimer’s.


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    Science Daily (2014, July 15) Fish oil supplements reduce incidence of cognitive decline, may improve memory function. Science Daily. Retrieved from

    Daiello, Lori A., et. al. (2014) Association of fish oil supplement use with preservation of brain volume and cognitive function. Alzheimer's & Dementia, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.jalz.2014.02.005

    Ostrow, N. (2014, January 22) Fish Oil May Help Preserve Brain Cells, Study Suggests. Bloomberg. Retrieved from

Published On: August 02, 2014