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Study Questions Fish Oil Brain Claims

Higher levels of omega-3 didn't boost thinking, memory test scores
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Overall, the researchers found no changes in mental function based on the levels of omega-3s in the blood.

There were two tests -- fine motor speed and verbal fluency -- that showed a slightly significant difference between high levels of omega-3s and low levels of omega-3s, according to the study.

"There were two marginally significant findings between high and low omega-3s, and to some extent those findings align with other studies, but we did look at about 14 different outcomes, so by chance, we would expect to find some on the cusp of statistical significance," explained Ammann.

Ammann said the researchers don't recommend changing your diet based on their findings. "This was a select group of women who were older and healthy at baseline. It's one piece of evidence on the effect of omega-3s and cognitive function," he said. "Our results are looking at the short-term effect of omega-3s. We don't know for someone [who has higher levels] for a longer time, if that would have a more gradual, cumulative effect over time."

Nutritionist Samantha Heller from the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn., said, "While this study found no difference between high and low [blood] serum levels of omega-3 fatty acids in memory tests, the researchers did not examine the levels of omega-3 fatty acids and the incidence of dementia in that cohort over time."

Other studies have suggested that omega-3s have numerous benefits, according to Heller. "Evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids have many positive health effects including lowering triglycerides [a type of blood fat], reducing the risk of some cancers, affecting mental health, fetal brain and eye development, lowering inflammation and more," she said.

The best way to get omega-3s, she said, is through a healthy diet, rather than through supplements.

"Diets that are replete with whole, healthy foods and very limited in processed, junk and fast food, help provide the body with all the nutrients, including healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids, it needs," Heller said. "Eating vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes, nuts and oils like olive oil, and exercising appears to reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementias, as well as many chronic diseases."

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