Elderly women with higher omega-3 levels were found to have larger brain volume when compared to women with lower omega-3 levels, according to a new study published in the journal Neurology.  Researchers from the University of South Dakota tested the blood of over 1,000 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study. They analyzed the red blood cell omega-3 levels of these women, and then followed up with MRI scans of their brains 8 years later when the women were age 78 on average.

They found that those women with the highest red blood cell omega-3 levels (a measure also known as the Omega-3 Index) had a 0.7 percent larger brain volume. “These higher levels of fatty acids can be achieved through diet and the use of supplements, and the results suggest that the effect on brain volume is the equivalent of delaying the normal loss of brain cells that comes with aging by one to two years,” noted James Pottala, PhD, lead researcher.

The Omega-3 Index of the women with the higher brain volume was 7.5 percent compared to 3.4 percent in those women with a low index. As a comparison, an Omega-3 Index of eight percent or higher is considered to be protective of heart health, while four percent or lower is considered to be a heart disease risk factor. Perhaps the same can be said for brain health.

The women with higher omega-3 levels were also found to have increased hippocampus volume, an area of the brain responsible for memory. In patients with Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus begins to shrink even before symptoms arise.

This is a great study because they looked at the best measure of omega-3 status in the body—the Omega-3 Index. This index reflects long-term intake of omega-3, and so is a good representation for how much omega-3 is really in the body. I don’t know about you, but I would love to preserve my brain health by a year or two simply by having a higher Omega-3 Index (which can be achieved by supplementing daily with fish oil).