Working memory - for example, the ability to recall street addresses or phone numbers - is in top form when we’re in our teens and early twenties, and then gradually declines. The good news? A recent study suggests that increasing omega-3 intake can improve on even the high level of working memory typical of young adults. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh evaluated the memory of healthy young people with a test that involved remembering a series of numbers and letters. The participants also underwent PET scans (positron emission tomography) and blood tests to measure omega-3s. The researchers reported that performance on the memory test positively correlated with the amounts of omega-3 the young people were getting from their diets before beginning the study. They then asked the participants to take daily omega-3 supplements for six months. Afterwards, tests showed that working memory among the participants was measurably improved, although the investigators were unable to determine from the imaging tests precisely what mechanism omega-3 influenced in the brain to enhance memory. The study was published online October 3, 2012 in PLOS One.
My take? Our bodies require regular, daily intake of both EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). These two long-chain omega-3 fats are abundant in oily fish from cold northern waters but are otherwise hard to come by. Most of us simply do not get enough, making this the most serious dietary deficiency in our population. A great deal of scientific data links low tissue levels of EPA and DHA to mental and emotional disorders including depression, violent behavior, suicide, and learning disabilities. Dietary supplementation with these fats, usually in the form of fish oil, provides an effective, natural and nontoxic support for bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, postpartum depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). It also helps prevent depression and improve overall emotional well-being. This study is interesting because it suggests that getting adequate amounts of omega-3s can enhance our mental potential at its peak.