|Long-chain (LC) omega-3 PUFA derived from marine sources may play an important role in cognitive performance throughout all life stages. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the dominant omega-3 in the brain, is a major component of neuronal cell membranes and affects various neurological pathways and processes.
Despite its critical role in brain function, human's capacity to synthesize DHA de novo is limited and its consumption through the diet is important. However, many individuals do not or rarely consume seafood.
The aim of this review is to critically evaluate the current evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCT) in healthy school-aged children, younger and older adults to determine whether consumption of LC omega-3 PUFA improves cognitive performance and to make recommendations for future research.
Current evidence suggests that consumption of LC omega-3 PUFA, particularly DHA, may enhance cognitive performance relating to learning, cognitive development, memory and speed of performing cognitive tasks. Those who habitually consume diets low in DHA, children with low literacy ability and malnourished and older adults with age-related cognitive decline and mild cognitive impairment seem to benefit most.
However, study design limitations in many RCTs hamper firm conclusions. The measurement of a uniform biomarker, e.g., % DHA in red blood cells, is essential to establish baseline DHA-status, to determine targets for cognitive performance and to facilitate dosage recommendations. It is recommended that future studies be at least 16 weeks in duration, account for potential interaction effects of gender, age and apolipoprotein E genotype, include vegan/vegetarian populations, include measures of speed of cognitive performance and include brain imaging technologies as supportive information on working mechanisms of LC omega-3 PUFA.
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