Lack of Long Chain Fatty Acids May Lead to Cognitive Decline in Two YearsA new study suggests that when people don’t get enough EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid) in their diets, they may experience some cognitive decline within the next two years.

This adds to the growing body of evidence that very long chain omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for maintaining cognitive health, and that many Americans do not consume the required amounts of these nutrients.

The importance of consuming long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) for optimal brain health has been demonstrated in numerous studies.

To figure out whether lower dietary intake of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexanoic acid (DHA) were risk factors for cognitive decline, Tammy Scott, Ph.D, a scientist at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University conducted a study using the Boston Puerto Rican Health Study cohort.

“The participants were put through an intensive series of cognitive tests such as memory tests using a list of words, an attention test to repeat lists of numbers forward and backward, and a test of organization and planning involving copying complex figures,” said Scott.

The 895 participants completed a questionnaire in order to determine their intake of PUFAs. The results were determined by comparing baseline test numbers with a two year follow up.

The findings revealed that the participants’ overall intake of omega-3 PUFAs was low. According to the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, it is recommended that individuals have an intake of eight or more ounces of seafood per week (less for young children) to ensure a sufficient intake of the very long chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). This would be about 1,750 mg of EPA and DHA per week, or an average of 250 mg per day.

The researchers found that only 27 percent of the participants in their study met or exceeded that recommendation. The main source of EPA and DHA in the participants’ diets appeared to be from canned tuna.

“While more research is needed to determine whether intake of fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, and trout can help prevent against cognitive decline, our preliminary data support previous research showing that intake of these types of fish have health benefits,” said Scott who recently presented the findings during the Experimental Biology 2014 meeting.

Source: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

Omega-3 photo by shutterstock.