Food and Behaviour Research

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Omega 3 Oils and Vitamin B Supplements: A Winning Combination

by Gunda Siska, The Pharmacy Times

omega-3

Could the high concentration of DHA and EPA in fish oils make us smarter or help us function better? Many clinical trials have sought to answer this question, and fish oils have been studied in the many different situations with variable results.

FAB RESEARCH COMMENT:

Previous clinical trials have shown that supplementation with B vitamins (B6, B12 and folate) can reduce physical brain shrinkage and cognitive decline in older adults - but these studies also found that the benefits pf the B vitamins depended on participants having good initial omega-3 status. See:

This suggested that B vitamins and omega-3 may work together in synergy to prevent age-related brain degeneration and associated cognitive problems, including dementia.

To investigate this further, the same researchers recently re-analysed data from a much earlier clinical trial of omega-3 supplementation in Alzheimer's disease, (Freund-Levi Et Al 2006) - this time taking into account the initial B vitamin status of the particpants (as indexed by homocysteine, a toxic by-product of normal metabolism which builds up when B6, B12 and/or folate are lacking).

As predicted, they found that the effects of omega-3 supplementation depended on initial B vitamin status - indicating that adequate B vitamin status is needed for omega-3 supplements to provide any benefits for slowing age-related cognitive decline.

These new findings support the earlier evidence that omega-3 and B vitamins work synergistically together to support brain health (and many of the mechanisms by which they do so are already known) - showing that:

  • adequate supplies of BOTH long-chain omega-3 AND B vitamins are needed to protect against age-related brain degeneration.
They also highlight the serious limitations of considering only one nutrient at a time in clinical trials (the standard model used for trialling new drugs).  It is well known that nutrients naturally work in synergy with each other - and that the prior nutritional status of participants is likely to influence their effects. 

Together with the striking findings from the earlier 'Vitacog' trial, these findings provide very strong grounds for investigating both omega-3 and B vitamins together - not only for the prevention of cognitive decline and dementia, but for other mental health, developmental or neurological conditions for which either omega-3, and/or B vitamins have shown evidence of benefits.

For details of the current study, see:



For more articles on omega-3 and the ageing brain - see here.

For more articles on vitamin-B and ageing - see here.

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. 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. 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.
 
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.
  • 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.
  • Improved blood flow: Studies are showing that there is increased blood flow to the brain after high dose omega 3 consumption. 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?