Tips from a Pediatrician : How to Get Kids to Take Fish Oil
Can Fish Oil Make You Smarter?
One of the best reasons for taking fish oil supplements, a potent source for omega-3 fatty acids, is their supposed benefits for staving off dementia. But not so fast—a new study suggests that fish oil might not be so great for your brain after all. Could it be true? Take a look at the facts.
The new research, published inThe Cochrane Library, involved a review of a collection of other studies that analyzed the effects of taking omega-3 supplements on cognitive function—the brain’s ability to process thoughts, including making and retrieving memories—over time. Combing through nearly 2,000 existing studies, the researchers looked for studies that compared cognitive function in healthy people without dementia taking omega-3 supplements to those taking a placebo for at least six months.
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Narrowing down their selections to just three studies, involving a total of 3,536 people, the researchers found that those who took the supplements were no better off in tests of brain function than those who took placebos. “The results of the available studies show no benefit for cognitive function with [omega-3] supplementation among cognitively healthy older people,” wrote the researchers, led by Emma Sydenham of the London school of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
That’s just what most researchers would have guessed, says Floyd “Ski” Chilton, Ph.D., director of botanical lipids and inflammatory disease prevention at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center. “You’re essentially asking the question of whether taking omega-3s would make healthy people smarter,” he says. “I don’t think any of us who work in this field would think that was the case.”
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But, he adds, that doesn’t mean taking omega-3 supplements won’t ward off problems in the future. Chilton explains that omega-3 fatty acids have a potent anti-inflammatory effect. In his lab and in others, research suggests that omega-3s can help improve a variety of conditions linked with inflammation throughout the body, including heart disease, asthma, and psoriasis. The brain is no exception, he says. Reducing overall inflammation could also help reduce the chances of brain disorders linked with this condition over the long haul, including dementia.
Additionally, he says, taking in omega-3s through food or supplements provides more building blocks for the brain to repair damage that crops up over time. “Fifty percent of your brain is made of fat, and the vast majority of that is a fatty acid called DHA,” he says. DHA is one of the major components of fish oil. Results from another study, published in February of this year, suggest that people who had higher blood levels of DHA were less likely to show signs of dementia and more likely to have bigger regions of the brain associated with memory than those with lower DHA levels.
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So, should you keep that bottle of fish oil? Although researchers are still studying whether omega-3s can definitively prevent dementia, Chilton says, the results so far are “promising.” Until it’s unequivocal, however, he recommends taking fish oil for the numerous other benefits it’s been shown to have, particularly on the heart. The American Heart Association recommends that people without heart disease eat fatty fish twice a week, and those with heart disease should take at least 1000 mg of the fatty acids EPA plus DHA per day.
Video: Does eating fish make children smarter? BBC science
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