While cardiovascular and mood benefits of dietary omega-3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are manifest, direct neurophysiological evidence of their effects on cortical activity is still limited. Hence we chose to examine the effects of two proprietary fish oil products with different EPA:DHA ratios (EPA-rich, high EPA:DHA; DHA-rich) on mental processing speed and visual evoked brain activity.

We proposed that nonlinear multifocal visual evoked potentials (mfVEP) would be sensitive to any alteration of the neural function induced by omega-3 fatty acid supplementation, because the higher order kernel responses directly measure the degree of recovery of the neural system as a function of time following stimulation.

Twenty-two healthy participants aged 18-34, with no known neurological or psychiatric disorder and not currently taking any nutritional supplementation, were recruited. A double-blind, crossover design was utilized, including a 30-day washout period, between two 30-day supplementation periods of the EPA-rich and DHA-rich diets (with order of diet randomized). Psychophysical choice reaction times and multi-focal nonlinear visual evoked potential (VEP) testing were performed at baseline (No Diet), and after each supplementation period.

Following the EPA-rich supplementation, for stimulation at high luminance contrast, a significant reduction in the amplitude of the first slice of the second order VEP kernel response, previously related to activation in the magnocellular pathway, was observed. The correlations between the amplitude changes of short latency second and first order components were significantly different for the two supplementations. Significantly faster choice reaction times were observed psychophysically (compared with baseline performance) under the EPA-rich (but not DHA-rich) supplementation, while simple reaction times were not affected.

The reduced nonlinearities observed under the EPA-rich diet suggest a mechanism involving more efficient neural recovery of magnocellular-like visual responses following cortical activation.

PMID: 22174778

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