Omega-3 essential fatty acids found in different types of foods ranging from wild fish to grass-fed livestock are essential for human body functioning.
San Francisco, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 11/03/2012 -- Led by Rajesh Narendarn, project principal investigator and associate professor of radiology at the University of Pittsburgh, researchers have found that healthy young adults, from ages 18-25, can improve their memory by taking more Omega-3 fatty acid intake. Their findings can be read online in PLOS One.
Bita Moghaddam, a project investigator and professor of neuroscience at the University stated, “Before seeing this data, I would have said it was impossible to move young healthy individuals above their cognitive best. . . [But] 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.”
Pittsburgh’s research team recruited healthy young men and women from different backgrounds and ethnicities to increase their Omega-3 intake with additional supplements (all approved by the Federal Drug Administration) for six months. They were monitored monthly through phone calls, as well as outpatient procedures. Before participants began taking the supplements, they all underwent positron emission tomography (PET) imaging; their blood samples were also analysed. After these tests, they were asked to perform a working memory test in which they were shown a series of letters and numbers. Known as a simple “n-back test,” the young adults had to keep track of what appeared one, two, and three times before.
Moghaddam commented, “What was particularly interesting about the pre-supplementation n-back test was that it correlated positively with plasma Omega-3. . .This means that the Omega-3s they were getting from their diet already positively correlated with their working memory.” After six months of taking Lovaza, an Omega-3 supplement, the participants were asked to complete this series of outpatient procedures again. It was during this last stage with this population group that researchers found a correlation between improved working memory and an increased intake of Omega-3 supplements.
Matthew Muldoon, project co-investigator and associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh stated, “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. . . But what about our highest-functioning periods? Can we help the brain achieve its full potential by adapting our healthy behaviours in our young adult life? We found that we absolutely can.”
In addition to focusing on the results arising from an increased intake of Omega-3s on young people, the Pitt team was also hoping to determine the brain mechanism associated with Omega-3 regulation. Previous studies with rodents suggests that removing Omega-3 from the diet might reduce dopamine storage. That storage is the neurotransmitter associated with mood as well as working memory, as well as decrease density in the striatal vesicular monoamine transporter type 2 (commonly referred to as VMAT2, a protein associated with decision making). Although the Pitt researchers determined that increasing VMAT2 protein was the mechanism of action that boosted cognitive performance, PET imaging revealed that this was not the case.
Narendarn said, “It is really interesting that diets enriched with Omega-3 fatty acid can enhance cognition in highly functional young individuals. . . Nevertheless, it was a bit disappointing that our imaging studies were unable to clarify the mechanisms by which it enhances working memory.” Ongoing animal modeling studies in the Moghaddam lab suggest that brain mechanisms affected by Omega-3s may be differently experienced by adolescents and young adults than by older adults. Knowing this, the Pitt team will continue to evaluate the effect of Omega-3 fatty acids in younger people in order to what factors and mechanisms improves cognition.
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