Omega-3 supplements may not slow cognitive decline

Created date

October 23rd, 2015
Omega-3 supplements
Omega-3 supplements

Omega-3 fatty acids have been intensely studied in recent years because preliminary evidence suggests that these compounds may have possible benefits for various conditions such as heart disease, macular degeneration, and cognitive health.

The most promising research has come from studies of food-based sources of omega-3s, including salmon, tuna, halibut, flaxseed, walnuts, soy products, and vegetable oils. Most studies of omega-3s in pill form, however, have shown no significant health benefits or have had inconsistent results. In addition, many of these studies were conducted on small groups of participants over a short amount of time. 

A closer look

In order to closely examine possible cognitive effects of omega-3 supplements, researchers from the National Institutes of Health conducted a study on a large group of participants over an extended period of time. They recruited 4,000 subjects with an average age of 72 who were asked to take one of two supplement formulations—one containing omega-3s and one that didn’t—over a period of five years. During this time, eight-part tests that measured immediate and delayed recall, attention and memory, and processing speed were administered. 

Results were disappointing. The cognition scores of each group decreased at a rate that is considered normal for older adults, indicating that the omega-3 supplement had no significant effect on maintaining cognitive health. 

Despite these results, researchers stress that eating foods high in omega-3s has been shown to have significant health effects, so people should strive to get nutrients from foods rather than from supplements.