Fish oil supplements can boost memory and reaction time in healthy young adults and provide different benefits for men and women.
According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists in New Zealand found that the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found abundantly in fatty fish and fish oil, supported memory and reaction time (1). While much of the research in the area of DHA and brain health has focused either on the benefits for growth and development in children or on the role of DHA in older individuals, these researchers conducted their study using healthy young adults.
The researchers enrolled 176 participants between the ages of 18 and 45 in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial that lasted six months. The researchers chose to have a six-month duration for the study because it usually takes about six months of supplementation for DHA to reach peak levels in the body. To be eligible for the study, individuals were required to have a low dietary intake of DHA—basically a typical western diet with less than one serving of fish per week and not taking fish oil supplements.
The researchers measured memory and reaction time using standardized, computer-administered tests that evaluated different types of memory and how quickly each participant could respond to the test questions. They found that at the end of the six-month study, both memory and reaction time had improved in the group that received the DHA supplements compared to the group that received a placebo.
One unique aspect of this study was that the researchers also found that cognitive improvement differed between male and female participants. The researchers evaluated two types of memory skills: episodic memory and working memory. Both men and women improved their reaction time in tests of episodic memory, but the accuracy of episodic memory improved more for women. Men showed more improvement than women in reaction time of working memory.
Episodic memory is a type of long-term memory that helps you recall experiences tied to times and places. For example, when you recall that you went downtown for dinner last night with friends, you are using episodic memory. Working memory is the type of memory that allows you to remember things temporarily in order to solve a problem or complete a task. You are using working memory when you look up a phone number and remember it long enough to dial the phone.
The study suggests that men and women gain cognitive benefits after taking DHA supplements in different ways, possibly through different mechanisms.
The amount of DHA omega-3 fatty acid used in this study was designed to mimic the amount provided by eating at least two servings of fatty fish per week. Unfortunately, most people consuming a typical western diet fall short of meeting this goal. Also, some evidence indicates that getting your omega-3s from a quality fish oil supplement every day is more effective at boosting your body’s omega-3 status than eating fish twice a week (2). IsaOmega™ provides 1.2 grams of total omega-3 fatty acids (0.6 grams EPA and 0.48 grams DHA) per serving, ensuring that daily omega-3 recommendations are met.
- Stonehouse W, Conlon CA, Podd J, Hill SR, Minihane AM, Haskell C, Kennedy D. DHA supplementation improved both memory and reaction time in healthy young adults: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 May;97(5):1134-43.
- Browning LM et al. Compared with Daily, Weekly n–3 PUFA Intake Affects the Incorporation of Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid into Platelets and Mononuclear Cells in Humans. J Nutr. 2014 doi: 10.3945/jn.113.186346