Most current research regarding improving brain functioning involves middle age or elderly people, as researchers are intensively looking for ways to cut the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
So the study published in the journal PLoS on October 3 was unusual in that the researchers studied only healthy young adults age 18 to 25, and were looking to see if a certain supplement could improve their short-term (“working”) memory. The good news is that it appeared to work, and the supplement is something easy for you to try if you want.
Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh (USA), headed by Dr. Rajesh Narendran, recruited 11 healthy young people, and at the start of the study, they tested the existing level of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood, and performed a sophisticated form of brain magnetic resonance test called positron emission tomography. Finally, they measured their short-term memory by reciting a list of numbers and letters, and then asking them to recall the list.
Then for the next six months, each subject took a daily supplement of omega-3 fatty acids (750 mg per day of DHA and 930 mg per day of eicosapentaenoic acid, or EPA). After six months, they repeated all the testing. The new blood tests showed that they had higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood, as expected, and their brain tomography was unchanged.
The surprising finding was that now the new memory testing showed that their short-term memory did in fact improve, by 23%. According to one of the researchers, Dr. Matthew Muldoon “A majority of previous studies were conducted in the elderly or people with some health problem, leaving this (younger) population of adults without any answer about the possible benefits of omega-3. We discovered that we can improve our brain to reach a greater degree of functioning through healthy behaviors at the beginning of adult life”.
We look forward to more studies of omega-3 fatty acids, as researchers typically need further studies to confirm the results of an initial research. For example, in the current study, they only completed the study in 11 subjects, and the study was not “double-blind randomized controlled”, which is considered the “gold standard” in research.
For the current research to be improved in this way, the researchers would have to give only half of the subjects the real supplement, and the other half would receive a placebo tablet, and neither the subjects nor the researchers would know who had received the real supplement and who had received the inactive tablet until the results were analyzed.
Even though the current study was not ideal, it might be worthwhile, if you are a young person (or middle age, or older!) wanting a better memormy, to start a daily supplement of omega-3 fatty acids. The only significant side effect is that omega-3s thin your blood slightly—which usually is a benefit—but if you have blood clotting issues, you should ask your doctor.
In our next post, we will present some of the other potential benefits of omega-3 fatty acid supplements.
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