Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh (UP), recently conducted research that shows there may be ties between omega-3 fatty acid consumption in young adults and working memory.
Working memory is the cognitive ability to temporarily store data while monitoring and manipulating information.
The study, which was published in PLoS One, began with the subjects undergoing positron emission tomography (PET) imaging and having their blood samples analyzed. The participants, who were aged 18 to 25 and were of varying ethnicities, each took an “n-back test,” during which they were shown a series of letters and numbers that they were required to remember in reverse order.
According to the research author, Bita Moghaddam, Ph.D., the preliminary tests already showed that there was a correlation between omega-3 fatty acids and working memory.
After the initial experiment, the participants took omega-3 fatty acid supplements for six months and retook the n-back test and the PET imaging, then resubmitted blood samples. The results showed that omega-3 fatty acids positively impacted working memory. This was one of the first studies to look at the links between young adults and their cognitive function in relation to the consumption of healthy fats.
“So many of the previous studies have been done with the elderly or people with medical conditions, leaving this unique population of young adults unaddressed,” said research author Matthew Muldoon, M.D., M.P.H. “But what about our highest-functioning periods? Can we help the brain achieve its full potential by adapting our healthy behaviors in our young adult life? We found that we absolutely can.”
At the beginning of the study, the researchers predicted that the omega-3 supplements would have a positive impact on working memory by increasing the size of a protein in the brain that is associated with decision making, while increasing dopamine storage. The results showed that that was not the case and the investigators were unsure of how omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for cognitive functioning. However, testing on animals does show that the fatty acids may impact young people differently than they do older people.
Other benefits of omega-3s
According to the University of Maryland, omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to have other mental benefits. A clinical study suggests that they may be able to decrease the number of mood swings in people with bipolar disorder, and they may also curb the symptoms of people who have schizophrenia.