Low dietary intake of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and/or foods rich in lutein may be associated with increased risk of cognitive decline in the elderly.

The cognitive benefit of DHA and lutein in unimpaired elder women was explored in the context of a 4-month, double-blind, intervention trial of DHA and lutein supplementation for eye health. Forty-nine women (aged 60-80 years) were randomized to receive DHA (800 mg/day; n = 14), lutein (12 mg/day; n = 11), a combination of DHA and lutein (n = 14) or placebo (n = 10). Subjects underwent cognitive tests measuring verbal fluency, memory, processing speed and accuracy, and self-reports of mood at randomization and upon completion of the trial.

Following supplementation, verbal fluency scores improved significantly in the DHA, lutein, and combined treatment groups (P < 0.03). Memory scores and rate of learning improved significantly in the combined treatment group (P < 0.03), who also displayed a trend toward more efficient learning (P = 0.07). Measures of mental processing speed, accuracy and mood were not affected by supplementation.

These exploratory findings suggest that DHA and lutein supplementation may have cognitive benefit for older adults.