Fish oils are sometimes called the beauty and brains supplement. The DHA ingredient in fish oils is known to be a building block for brain and nerve formation.1 It is added to baby formulas to support brain and nerve development.
But how does this relate to the adult brain? Could fish oils with its high concentration of DHA and EPA make us smarter or help us function better?
There have been many clinical trials to answer this question. Fish oils have been studied in the many different situations with variable result.
Recently scientists took a closer look at fish oils and vitamin b supplementation.2 B-vitamins are building blocks for many biochemicals in our brain and elsewhere in our bodies. Researchers found that when vitamin b was abundant, and then fish oil was taken, the individual had better cognitive performance and increased blood flow to the brain. It appears that they got smarter.
Other studies have also hinted at this conclusion that both omega 3 fatty acids and B vitamins need to be in abundant supplies for optimal brain health. This recent study is not the first to discover this.3,4
It appears that using omega 3 containing oils for improved brain function is just 1 piece to the puzzle. Omega 3’s do a play a role and their mechanism of action is still under investigation. The following are 3 proposed mechanisms for improve brain health:
- Reduced inflammation in the brain: Fish oils, and other medicinal oils containing omega 3 can calm inflammation. Perhaps if the brain is 'on fire' with inflammation, omega 3’s could potentially improve concentration, focus and mood.5
- Structural support: Since DHA is a building block for structural support of the brain and nervous system, perhaps making sure the nerves and brain are intact is another mechanism.1
- Improved blood flow: Studies are showing that there is increased blood flow to the brain after high dose omega 3 consumption.6 Is it possible that the omega 3’s are redirecting the blood flow to needed areas much like eicosanoids and prostaglandins do for injuries? Omega 3 are similar in chemical structure to eicosanoids and other inflammatory mediators that direct blood flow to injuries. Is it possible that omega 3 are doing this without the inflammation?
- Lauritzen L, Brambilla P, Mazzocchi A, Harsløf LB, Ciappolino V, Agostoni C. DHA Effects in Brain Development and Function. Nutrients. 2016;8(1):6. Published 2016 Jan 4. doi:10.3390/nu8010006
- Jernerén, F, Cederholm, T, Refsum, H Homocysteine Status Modifies the Treatment Effect of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on Cognition, Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, vol. Pre-press, no. Pre-press, pp. 1-9, 2019, DOI: 10.3233/JAD-181148
- Jernerén F, Elshorbagy AK, Oulhaj A, et al. Brain atrophy in cognitively impaired elderly: the importance of long-chain ω-3 fatty acids and B vitamin status in a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Jul;102(1):215-21. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.103283. Epub 2015 Apr 15
- Oulhaj A, Jernerén F, Refsum H, Smith AD, de Jager CA. Omega-3 Fatty Acid Status Enhances the Prevention of Cognitive Decline by B Vitamins in Mild Cognitive Impairment. J Alzheimer Dis. 2016;50(2):547–557. doi:10.3233/JAD-150777
- Omega 3 Fish oils and Inflammation: Beyond Heart Health, https://www.pharmacytimes.com/contributor/gunda-siska-pharmd/2019/05/omega3-fish-oils-and-inflammation-beyond-heart-health
- Howe PRC, Evans HM, Kuszewski JC, Wong RHX. Effects of long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on brain function in mildly hypertensive older adults. Nutrients. 2018;10:413.
Gunda Siska, PharmD
Gunda Siska, PharmD, has worked in various fields within the pharmaceutical industry as a licensed pharmacist for more than 20 years. She is currently a staff hospital pharmacist assisting nurses and doctors with drug prescribing, administration, and dispensing, as well as independently monitoring and dosing highly toxic and dangerous drugs. For 2 years, she was concurrently a consultant pharmacist for skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes. Dr. Siska is a member of the New Mexico Society of Health-System Pharmacists and the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. Follow her on Twitter @GundaSiska