Is Omega-3 fish oil consumption beneficial for brain health as we age?

In the ever-aging world population, maintaining optimal brain health has become a paramount concern.

Questions arise about the potential solutions that can help us preserve cognitive function and memory. One promising avenue explored is the consumption of Omega-3 fish oil supplements.

Omega-3 fatty acids have garnered significant attention for their potential benefits not only in heart health but also in nurturing our brains.

In this blog, we will delve into the question: Is Omega-3 fish oil consumption beneficial for brain health as we age?

What is Omega fish oil 3 good for?

Fish oil is mainly composed of omega-3 fatty acids – docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

It is well known that these are beneficial for the heart and the skin. However, it also incredibly impacts the brain, especially regarding mild memory loss and depression.

In the body, these two fatty acids play a powerful anti-inflammatory role. Additionally, they play a crucial role in heart health and human development [1].

Fish oil and fatty fish are the only sources of DHA and EPA in the human diet. Because most individuals consume the recommended amounts of fish, many likely need more DHA and EPA in their diets [2].

The body can make EPA and DHA from another omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is found in several food sources, like chia seeds, canola oil, flaxseeds, soybeans, soybean oil, and walnuts.

It has been reported that humans cannot convert ALA to EPA or DHA very efficiently, with estimates indicating that less than ten percent of ALA consumed is transformed to EPA or DHA [3].

In this case, omega-3 fatty acids might be a good option, particularly for those who consume less fish [4].

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What are the effects of omega-3s on the brain?

All stages of life require omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA for normal brain function and development. There is no doubt that EPA and DHA have a crucial role in a baby’s brain development.

According to several studies, pregnant women who consume fish or use fish oil during pregnancy have children who score higher on intelligence and brain function tests [5], [6].

Maintaining normal brain function throughout life is also dependent on these fatty acids. Brain cells contain abundant amounts of these proteins in their cell membranes, facilitating communication and preserving their health.

Animals fed diets without omega-3 fatty acids have lower levels of DHA in their brains, thus suffering from memory and learning deficits [7].

Meanwhile, studies have shown that older adults with lower DHA levels in their blood are more likely to have smaller brains, which is a sign of accelerated brain aging.

A diet high in omega-3 fatty acids prevents some of these negative effects on brain development and function.

What are the effects of omega-3s on the brain?
Photograph: Axel_Kock/Shutterstock

Fish oil may benefit mild memory loss

Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil play an important role in brain function and development. Also, fish oil is said to enhance brain function in individuals with memory problems such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Millions of elderly adults suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, which affects their brain function and quality of life.

The discovery of a supplement that could optimize brain function in this population is likely to be a significant, life-changing event.

Unfortunately, a review of the research didn’t find convincing evidence that omega-3 supplements improve brain function in those suffering from Alzheimer’s [8].

In contrast, several studies have suggested that fish oil supplements may improve brain function in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or age-related cognitive decline [9].

Although these conditions aren’t as severe as Alzheimer’s disease, they still cause memory loss and other difficulties with the brain.

In one study, 485 older adults with cognitive decline were given 900 mg of DHA or a placebo daily for one year. Tests of memory and learning showed that people who took DHA after 24 weeks performed better [10].

Another study investigated the effects of taking 24 weeks of 1.8 grams of omega-3s from fish oil supplements.

Researchers found positive effects on brain function in individuals with MCI but not in those with Alzheimer’s [11].

This study suggests taking fish oil supplements at the beginning of brain function decline is most beneficial. The brain may not benefit from it if you wait too long.

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Depression may be improved by fish oil

In the future, non-medicinal interventions will likely become more popular as treatments for depression and other mental health disorders are sought. Research has long linked fish oil to better mental health, but does it stand up to scrutiny?

The results of a review of clinical studies found that taking fish oil supplements improved depressive symptoms similar to antidepressant medication [12]. Depressive symptoms seem to improve most dramatically in people taking antidepressants as well.

In addition, higher doses of EPA resulted in more significant effects. The mechanism by which EPA and omega-3s improve depression symptoms is still unclear.

There has been speculation that it has something to do with their effects on brain serotonin receptors and serotonin. Omega-3s from fish oil may also improve depression symptoms through anti-inflammatory properties [13].

There is also evidence that fish oil may be beneficial for other mental health conditions like bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. There is, however, a need for more high-quality research before the medical community can make definitive recommendations [14].

Brain function in healthy people is not improved by fish oil

Fish oil benefits people with Alzheimer’s disease and mild declines in brain function, but many people with normal brain function are curious about its effects.

Observational studies report that eating more omega-3 fatty acids from fish significantly correlates with better brain function.

Nevertheless, these studies evaluated fish consumption rather than fish oil supplements. Additionally, correlational studies like these can’t prove causality [15].

Fish oil supplements do not appear to improve brain function in healthy individuals without memory problems, according to the majority of higher-quality controlled studies.

The results of a study that included 159 young adults showed that taking supplements containing 1 gram of fish oil per day did not boost brain function [16].

Likewise, several studies have shown that taking fish oil supplements does not improve brain function in people with no memory problems [17], [18]. 

What are the side effects of taking omega-3 fish oil?

While Omega-3 fish oil supplements offer promising benefits for brain health in aging individuals, it’s essential to be aware of potential side effects and considerations [19] before incorporating them into your routine. 

  • Gastrointestinal distress

Some individuals may experience mild gastrointestinal discomfort, such as nausea, diarrhea, or bloating, when taking Omega-3 supplements. To mitigate this, consider taking the supplement with meals or choosing enteric-coated capsules.

  • Blood-thinning effect

Omega-3 fatty acids can have a mild blood-thinning effect. If you’re taking blood-thinning medications or have a bleeding disorder, consult your healthcare provider before starting Omega-3 supplementation to avoid potential interactions.

  • Allergies

Individuals with fish allergies should opt for fish oil supplements derived from non-fish sources, like algae oil. Check product labels carefully to ensure allergen safety.

  • Medication interactions 

Omega-3 supplements can interact with certain medications, such as blood pressure medications or anticoagulants. Always inform your healthcare provider about any supplements you are taking to prevent potential interactions.

  • Dosage and individual variability

The appropriate dosage of Omega-3 supplements may vary from person to person. Consult with a healthcare professional to determine the right dosage based on your specific needs and health status.

Ensure the quality and purity of the Omega-3 supplement by choosing reputable brands that undergo third-party testing to confirm the absence of contaminants like mercury, PCBs, and dioxins.

While supplements can be beneficial, remember that a well-rounded diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acid sources like fatty fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts can also contribute to brain health.

Before beginning any new supplement regimen, especially if you have underlying health conditions, are pregnant, nursing, or taking medications, consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance and recommendations.

Does fish oil benefit your brain as you age?

Does fish oil benefit your brain as you age?

In the case of mild brain decline or depression, you may want to consider taking fish oil. While fish oil supplements may have other health benefits, these two groups are likely to benefit the most from them.

In order to see benefits in brain function and mental health, you don’t need to take a certain amount of omega-3s from fish oil. There was a wide variation in the amounts used in each study.

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements should not exceed 3,000 mg per day as set by the US Food and Drug Administration.

A higher recommendation has been set by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority), at a maximum of 5,000 mg per day [20], [21].

In terms of omega-3 fatty acids, 1,000–2,000 mg of fish oil is a good starting point that is well below the upper limit recommended by experts. A fish oil supplement with a higher amount of EPA is recommended for people with depression.

When evaluating fish oil supplements, it is imperative to read labels carefully [22]. Some brands may contain less than 500 mg of essential omega-3 fatty acids in a 1,000-mg fish oil capsule.

It is generally considered safe to take fish oil supplements at dosages below the ones mentioned earlier. Nonetheless, fish oil supplements should always be discussed with a doctor before taking them.

Taking blood-thinning medications or undergoing surgery may make this especially important because of their potential effects on blood clotting.

Final takeaways

It is evident that Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly EPA and DHA found in fish oil, hold substantial promise in supporting and preserving cognitive function as we age.

Incorporating Omega-3-rich foods into your meals can be a natural and safe approach to boost brain health. But with careful consideration, high-quality supplements can be a valuable addition to your regimen, provided they are chosen wisely and used under professional guidance.

Omega-3 fish oil emerges as a promising ally, but always remember that a holistic approach to brain health, encompassing lifestyle choices and expert advice, remains paramount.

FAQs

Is omega-3 fish oil good for the brain?

Omega-3 fish oil is considered good for the brain as it may enhance cognitive function and support brain health, particularly when taken in appropriate doses.

What happens if you take omega-3 fish oil everyday?

Taking omega-3 fish oil daily may lead to potential benefits such as improved memory and reduced risk of cognitive decline, but individual responses can vary.

Does omega-3 help with aging?

Omega-3 may help with aspects of aging by potentially reducing the risk of age-related cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s and promoting overall brain health.

How long does it take for omega-3 to help the brain?

The time it takes for omega-3 to show noticeable effects on brain health can vary, but some studies suggest improvements may be observed within a few months of consistent supplementation.

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[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22332096 
[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24694001
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9637947 
[4] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/17-health-benefits-of-omega-3 
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12509593 
[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1281283/ 
[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17392137 
[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27063583 
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22305186 
[10] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20434961 
[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18573585 
[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4872453/ 
[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3976923/ 
[14] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12505817 
[15] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14745067 
[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21864417 
[17] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18678826 
[18] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20410089 
[19] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326206 
[20] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12438303 
[21] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.2903/j.efsa.2012.2815/epdf 
[22] https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/omega-3-supplement-guide

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