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Cognition not protected by omega-3s after all: study

September 26, 2013
by Lois A. Bowers, Senior Editor
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Feel free to encourage female residents to keep eating salmon if they like the taste. Just don’t expect them to see any improvement in cognition.

New research from the University of Iowa (UI) suggests that omega-3 fatty acids found in some fish and nuts may not protect against cognitive decline in women after all. Their study, published online by the journal Neurology, contradicts some previous research.

“There has been a lot of interest in omega-3s as a way to prevent or delay cognitive decline but, unfortunately, our study did not find a protective effect in older women,” says study author Eric Ammann, an IU doctoral student.

The researchers do not suggest that people change their diets based on the findings. “We know that fish and nuts can be healthy alternatives to red meat and full-fat dairy products, which are high in saturated fats,” Ammann says, adding that scientists are still exploring potential effects of omega 3s on the heart, blood vessels and brain. Most randomized trials of fish oil supplements have found no benefit to taking them, however, he adds.

The study involved 2,157 women aged 65 to 80 years who had normal cognition and were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative. The women underwent annual testing of their thinking and memory skills for a median of 5.9 years. Blood tests measured the amount of omega-3s in their blood before the study began.

The researchers found no difference between women who had high or low levels of omega-3s in their blood at the time of the first cognition tests. Also, no difference was observed between the two groups in how fast thinking skills declined over time.

The study was funded by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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