A recent study published in the Public Library of Sciences journal sought to determine the effect of omega-3s on memory function. Healthy young subjects were supplemented with 2 grams of omega-3 EPA + DHA daily (930 mg EPA + 750 DHA) for six months.
Over six months levels of the omega-3s in red blood cell membranes (the best measure of tissue levels—where the omega-3s work) were increased in association with improvement in working memory. The researchers also tried to determine whether omega-3 intake affected dopamine storage in the striatum of the brain, as measured by PET scans (positron-emission transmission scans). They did not find an effect, however, suggesting that dopamine storage in the striatum is not the mechanism by which omega-3s affect working memory.
The interesting take away from this study is that young healthy people—who already have relatively good memory—were able to improve their working memory by taking omega-3s. The researchers noted, “Before seeing this data, I would have said it was impossible to move young healthy individuals above their cognitive best. We found that members of this population can enhance their working memory performance even further, despite their already being at the top of their cognitive game.”
“So many of the previous studies have been done with the elderly or people with medical conditions, leaving this unique population of young adults unaddressed,” stated Matthew Muldoon, an investigator of the study, “Can we help the brain achieve its full potential by adapting our healthy behaviors in our young adult life? We found that we absolutely can.”
More studies will be needed to determine just how these beneficial fats work in the brain to improve memory. In the meantime, keep taking your omega-3s!