Omega-3 Fats And Brain Health In Older Women

Omega-3 Fats And Brain Health In Older Women

You may have heard that Omega-3 fats, a type of fatty acid found in oily fish, nuts, seeds, and some dark green vegetables, is an important part of a healthy meal plan. Your healthcare provider might have even given omega-3 supplements to you if you have high triglycerides (a kind of blood fat) or heart problems, and do not eat fish very often. These pills usually contain Omega-3 fats from fish oil or algae.

There is some evidence that eating more omega-3 fatty acids than other polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA, liquid fats), like Omega-6, might be good for your heart and immune system. Some researchers also wonder if it could benefit brain health. A recent study published in the journal Neurology suggests that, for older women, Omega-3 intake might not help brain function at all.

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THE RESEARCH

Scientists followed more than 2,000 older women (aged 65 to 80) with normal brain function for an average of 6 years. They measured the study subjects’ blood levels of Omega-3 fats at the start of the study, and then took note of how well they did on brain tests once a year after that. These tests measured the participants’ memory, language abilities, and motor skills. The researchers found no difference in brain health between the women who had high levels of Omega-3 fats in their blood and those who had low levels.

However, the NHS (the National Health Service of the UK) noted that there were some problems with this study. One was that the researchers took blood levels only once, and it is possible that these levels changed over the course of the study. Another is that they only took blood tests, which do not necessarily show how much Omega-3 fats a person eats, or how much may be stored inside their cells.

SHOULD I EAT MORE OMEGA-3 ANYWAY?

omega-3-fats-tipsThe NHS pointed out that there is very little evidence that eating foods high in Omega-3 fats — or taking it in pill form — will help you prevent or treat brain problems like dementia. If you are taking expensive fish oil supplements or eating more fish than you enjoy because you believe it will help your brain, the good news is that you might not need to.

There is, however, some good research showing that foods rich in Omega-3 fats can protect your heart. If you have diabetes or are at risk for heart problems, it is still a good idea to eat a wide variety of unprocessed foods, including oily fish, like sardines, salmon or mackerel, green vegetables, nuts and seeds. Another easy way to improve your Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio (to get the same heart health benefits) is to reduce the amount of Omega-6 you eat. Omega-6 is found in high amounts in corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, and margarine made from these oils.

 

by Elizabeth Klein, MPhil

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