Aug 28, 2015

Study Shows No Benefit of Omega 3 Supplements for Memory

A study by the National Institutes for Health (NIH) shows that Omega 3 and antioxidant supplements have no effect on cognitive function or memory loss in older adults.

omega-3 supplements did not slow cognitive decline or memory loss
While some research suggests that a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids can protect brain health, a clinical trial that studied 4,000 patients over a five years, found that omega-3 supplements did not slow cognitive decline or memory loss in older adults.
“Contrary to popular belief, we didn’t see any benefit of omega-3 supplements for stopping cognitive decline,” said Emily Chew,, M.D., deputy director of the Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications and deputy clinical director at the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of NIH.

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The finding were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.


  • Omega-3 supplements are available over the counter and often labeled as supporting brain health. A large 2011 study found that omega-3 supplements did not improve the brain health of older patients with preexisting heart disease.

With AREDS2, Dr. Chew and her team saw an opportunity to investigate the possible cognitive benefits of omega-3 supplements, she said. All participants had early or intermediate AMD. They were 72 years old on average and 58 percent were female. They were randomly assigned to one of the following groups:

1) Placebo (an inert pill)
2) Omega-3 [specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 350 mg) and eicosapentaenoic acid (650 mg)]
3) Lutein and zeaxanthin (nutrients found in large amounts in green leafy vegetables)
4) Omega-3 and Lutein/zeaxanthin

Because all participants were at risk for worsening of their AMD, they were also offered the original or a modified version of the AREDS formulation (without omega-3 or lutein/zeaxanthin).

  • Participants were given cognitive function tests at the beginning of the study to establish a baseline, then at two and four years later.
  • The tests, all validated and used in previous cognitive function studies, included eight parts designed to test immediate and delayed recall, attention and memory, and processing speed. 

The cognition scores of each subgroup decreased to a similar extent over time, indicating that no combination of nutritional supplements made a difference.

Studies in mice specially bred to have features of the disease found that DHA reduces beta-amyloid plaques, abnormal protein deposits in the brain that are a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, although a clinical trial of DHA showed no impact on memory in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.

“The AREDS2 data add to our efforts to understand the relationship between dietary components and Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline,” said Lenore Launer, Ph.D. senior investigator in the Laboratory of Epidemiology and Population Science at the National Institute on Aging.
“It may be, for example, that the timing of nutrients, or consuming them in a certain dietary pattern, has an impact. More research would be needed to see if dietary patterns or taking the supplements earlier in the development of diseases like Alzheimer’s would make a difference.”
* Other omega-3 fatty acids are found in plant foods such as flaxseed, walnuts, soy products, and canola and soybean oils. Specific omega-3 fatty acids from these sources were not studied.

National Institutes of Health  (NIH) is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.

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