The Importance of Omega-3s as we Age

I noticed an article in the December AARP Magazine. While I usually enjoy the advice the magazine shares with its millions of readers, I find I must comment on one message in their article on memory. Here is the advice:

“There’s no evidence yet that downing supplements helps your memory over the long term, especially when it comes to two popular ones: vitamin E and omega-3s (in fish oil). A review paper published in April concluded that vitamin E neither prevents Alzheimer’s nor improves the minds of people who have it. It’s worth checking with your doctor to be sure you’re getting the nutrients you need for overall health. But if your body’s stocked up on everything, your brain probably doesn’t need extra vitamins.”

I would really hate to think that older people stopped taking either their omega-3s or their vitamin E after reading this article. Even if vitamin E doesn’t prevent Alzheimer’s disease, it does make important contributions to our health. Specifically, vitamin E supports nerve health; plays a role in healthy cell signaling, which is needed for cognitive function; and supports healthy blood vessels, promoting healthy circulation. To point out the obvious, our brain needs the rich supply of oxygen and nutrients delivered by our blood for optimal function.

As for the omega-3s in fish oil, there simply is no debate that the most beneficial omega-3s EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and especially DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) support optimal brain function. The brain is largely comprised of fat, and one of the fats in greatest supply in the membranes of our brain cells is DHA. DHA supports robust cell signaling in the neurons and across the synapses and this signaling is critically important for cognitive health. A 2015 review considered studies that examined cognitive health, and some studies did not find benefits; however, when the study participants took 750 mg of DHA or more, the studies consistently found benefits.

And there are plenty of studies to examine. In December of 2015 the number of published studies on the omega-3s EPA and DHA crossed a threshold of 30,000, with 80% of them finding benefit. No supplement food or drug even comes close to having that body of evidence supporting its use.

Our brains need omega-3s to support their function, at any age, but especially as you get older.