Omega-3 fatty acids enhance cognitive flexibility in at-risk older adults

Omega-3 fatty acids enhance cognitive flexibility in at-risk older adults
M.D./Ph.D. student Marta Zamroziewicz, left, Carle Hospital-Beckman Institute postdoctoral fellow Rachael Rubin and their colleagues looked at the role of nutrition in brain function in elderly adults who were at risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer's disease. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

A study of older adults at risk of late-onset Alzheimer's disease found that those who consumed more omega-3 fatty acids did better than their peers on tests of cognitive flexibility—the ability to efficiently switch between tasks—and had a bigger anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region known to contribute to cognitive flexibility.

The analysis suggests, but does not prove, that consuming DHA and EPA, two omega-3 found in fish, enhanced in these adults in part by beefing up the anterior cingulate cortex, the researchers report in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

"Recent research suggests that there is a critical link between nutritional deficiencies and the incidence of both and degenerative neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease," said University of Illinois neuroscience, psychology, and speech and hearing science professor Aron Barbey, who led the study with M.D./Ph.D. student Marta Zamroziewicz. "Our findings add to the evidence that optimal nutrition helps preserve cognitive function, slow the progression of aging and reduce the incidence of debilitating diseases in healthy aging populations."

The researchers focused on aspects of brain function that are sometimes overlooked in research on aging, Zamroziewicz said. "A lot of work in cognitive aging focuses on memory, but in fact cognitive flexibility and other executive functions have been shown to better predict daily functioning than memory does," she said.

"Executive function" describes processes like planning, reasoning, paying attention, problem solving, impulse control and task switching.

"These functions tend to decline earlier than other cognitive functions in aging," Zamroziewicz said.

The new research built on previous studies that found associations between consumption, cognitive flexibility and the size of the anterior cingulate cortex.

"There's been some work to show that omega-3 fatty acids benefit cognitive flexibility, and there's also been work showing that cognitive flexibility is linked to this specific brain region, the anterior cingulate. But there's been very little work actually connecting these pieces," Zamroziewicz said.

The new study focused on 40 cognitively healthy older adults between the ages of 65 and 75 who are carriers of a gene variant (APOE e4) that is known to contribute to the risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer's disease.

The researchers tested participants' cognitive flexibility, measured levels of the fatty acids EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in their blood, and imaged their brains using MRI. Statistical analyses teased out the relationships between these factors.

"We wanted to confirm that higher omega-3 fatty acids related to better cognitive flexibility, and we did in fact see that," Zamroziewicz said. "We also wanted to confirm that higher omega-3 fatty acids related to higher volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, and we saw that. Finally, we were able to show that higher volume in the was an intermediary in the relationship between omega-3 fatty acids and cognitive flexibility."


Explore further

8 nutrients to protect the aging brain

More information: Anterior cingulate cortex mediates the relationship between O3PUFAs and executive functions in APOE e4 carriers, journal.frontiersin.org/articl … .2015.00087/abstract
Citation: Omega-3 fatty acids enhance cognitive flexibility in at-risk older adults (2015, May 19) retrieved 18 July 2019 from https://medicalxpress.com/news/2015-05-omega-fatty-acids-cognitive-flexibility.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
83 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

May 19, 2015
This still doesn't tell me how many milligrams of EPA, DHA, DPA, and total omega-3 fatty acids I need to supplement per day. My current estimate is 2 to 3 grams of omega-3 per day, which of course takes more fish oil.

JVK
May 20, 2015
See also: http://www.ncbi.n...3960071/ "...pheromones and nutrition could alter levels of maternal hormones, gestational events, and postnatal outcomes via their direct effect on maternal GnRH and the placenta. The outcomes might not always be positive, which means the possible effects should not be ignored. That would be like ignoring the likely effects of docosahexaenoic acid in the maternal and postnatal diet on LH and on neuronal development... (Lassek & Gaulin, 2011)."

Of interest to serious scientists may also be: "A quantum theory for the irreplaceable role of docosahexaenoic acid in neural cell signalling throughout evolution" http://www.ncbi.n...23206328

Excerpt: Whilst the view that nutritional conditions had a role in directing evolution seems contrary to the gene-centric view of evolution, it is consistent with pure Darwinism.

Darwin linked 'conditions of life" to biodiversity without the nonsense about mutations.

JVK
May 20, 2015
Unfortunately, no analysis of nutrient-dependent RNA-directed DNA methylation, which links RNA-mediated amino acid substitutions to cell type differentiation in all cells of all individuals of all genera has proved biodiversity is nutrient-dependent or that the physiology of reproduction biophysically constrains ecological adaptations via the conserved molecular mechanisms that link metabolic networks and genetic networks in all genera.

See also: Nutrient-dependent/pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution: a model. http://www.ncbi.n...24693353 Although there is no other model that links what is currently known about physics, chemistry, and molecular biology to biodiversity, my model has been criticized by Andrew Jones http://www.ncbi.n...24959329

Others who do not like the only model that links ecological variation to ecological adaptations in all genera should help Andrew Jones develop his mutagenesis experiments into a model.

JVK
May 20, 2015
Journal article excerpt:
"Possible non-vascular mechanisms that may underlie this volumetric mediation include enhanced membrane and membrane-bound protein function, reduced amyloid-β production, reduced neuroinflammation and oxidative damage, increased levels of brain derived neurotrophic factor, and reduced excitotoxic omega-6 levels (Cole & Frautschy, 2010)."

Re: brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

Estrogen increases BDNF levels, which links the epigenetic effects of nutrients and pheromones on GnRH to hormone-organized cell type differentiation in all tissues of all vertebrates via the biophysically constrained chemistry of nutrient-dependent RNA-mediated amino acid substitutions and protein folding.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more