One more study shows “brain supplements” don’t work to enhance brain health and function

Omega 3 supplementsWhy Can’t Fish Oil Sup­ple­ments Keep Our Brains Sharp? (NPR):

…why is it that a new study of old­er women pub­lished in the jour­nal Neu­rol­o­gy finds that omega-3s may not ben­e­fit think­ing skills or help fend off cog­ni­tive decline?…As study author Eric Ammann, of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Iowa, points out in an email, “most ran­dom­ized tri­als of omega‑3 sup­ple­ments have not found an effect on cog­ni­tive function.”

When you eat fish, there are oth­er nutri­ents such as vit­a­min E or vit­a­min D” that you’re get­ting at the same time, says researcher Rose­bud Roberts of the Mayo Clin­ic. In oth­er words, it’s the whole food, as a pack­age, that may be ben­e­fi­cial. And this seems to be the gen­er­al pic­ture emerg­ing in human health: get­ting nutri­ents and health­ful fats from the foods we eat as part of a health­ful diet, rather than from sup­ple­ments, may be the way to go.”

Study: Omega‑3 fat­ty acids and domain-spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive aging (Neu­rol­o­gy). From the Abstract:

  • Objec­tive: To test the hypoth­e­sis that high­er lev­els of red blood cell (RBC) docosa­hexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicos­apen­taenoic acid (EPA) have a pro­tec­tive asso­ci­a­tion with domain-spe­cif­ic cog­ni­tive func­tion in women aged 65 years and older.
  • Results: After adjust­ment for demo­graph­ic, clin­i­cal, and behav­ioral char­ac­ter­is­tics, no sig­nif­i­cant cross-sec­tion­al cog­ni­tive dif­fer­ences were found between women in the high and low DHA + EPA ter­tiles at the time of the first annu­al cog­ni­tive bat­tery. In addi­tion, no sig­nif­i­cant dif­fer­ences were found between the high and low DHA + EPA ter­tiles in the rate of cog­ni­tive change over time.
  • Con­clu­sions: We did not find an asso­ci­a­tion between RBC DHA + EPA lev­els and age-asso­ci­at­ed cog­ni­tive decline in a cohort of old­er, demen­tia-free women.


  1. Price Weston on October 2, 2013 at 1:46

    Study behind an expen­sive pay­wall. Obser­va­tion­al only. Does not estab­lish cau­sa­tion. No study arm giv­en fish oil sup­ple­ments. Blood lev­el divid­ed between low lev­els and low­er lev­els and called high (not true) and low. Use­full­ness of study — less than zero. May lead read­ers to eat less or no fish or to unnec­es­sar­i­ly cease tak­ing fish oil. There are many rea­sons why ani­mal derived omega fat­ty acids are esen­tial includ­ing DHA and EPA. This is one of those stud­ies that say that since 5 mg/day of vit­a­min C does not pre­vent scurvy, that Vit­a­min C is use­less gen­er­al­ly for any­thing. Why do researchers get aeay with this hocus pocus? I would fire them yesterday.

  2. Stephen Cain on October 9, 2013 at 4:25

    While I do agree with sharp­brains that sup­ple­ments (includ­ing fish oil, the most accred­it­ed one regard­ing brain health) will have a rel­a­tive­ly min­mi­al impact on some­one’s brain health, this study does actu­al­ly sup­port that claim.

    If you look at the study, there was no dif­fer­ence between the con­trol group and the fish oil sup­ple­ment group because nei­ther of them showed any sig­nif­i­cant cog­ni­tive decline in the short span of just 2 years. If the study was for a longer dura­tion such that there was sig­nif­i­cant cog­ni­tive decline amongst par­tic­i­pants with not predilec­tion towards the con­trol or experiemen­tal group, that would sup­port the claim that oil does not pre­vent cog­ni­tive decline.

    This study was tak­en com­plete­ly out of context.

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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