New Study Shows That Omega-3s Do Not Support Cognitive Health

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Fresh data from the second Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS2) suggest there is no benefit to supplementing with omega-3 to counter cognitive decline, and industry voices are fighting back.

“Contrary to popular belief, we didn’t see any benefit of omega-3 supplements for stopping cognitive decline,” says Emily Chew, M.D., the lead researcher of the study, and deputy director of the Division of Epidemiology and Clinical Applications and deputy clinical director at the National Eye Institute (NEI), part of National Institutes of Health.

This language is problematic, according to the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED). When the results of the study were made public on August 25, GOED released a statement saying, “A more accurate conclusion is that omega-3s do not delay cognitive decline under the current experimental conditions.”

AREDS2 involved 4,000 patients (average 72 years old) who participated in the study over a five-year time frame. The main objective of the trial was to investigate whether certain nutrients affected the development of eye diseases like cataracts and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). All participants had early or intermediate AMD.

Each patient was given either long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), a lutein/zeaxanthin combination, both or a placebo. They were also given different combinations of vitamins C, E, beta carotene and zinc. Everyone received cognitive function tests every two years to study immediate and delayed recall, attention, memory and processing speeds.

At the end of the study, no significant differences in scores were found between those that took the supplements and those that took the placebo, meaning that the LCPUFAs or the lutein/zeaxanthin combination had no statistically significant effect on cognitive functions in older individuals.

GOED notes that the amount of omegas given in the study was 1,000 mg of EPA and DHA, with only 350 mg coming from DHA. “Low-dose DHA supplementation started at the mean age of 72 doesn’t halt normal age-related cognitive decline,” the group pointed out. Indeed, other long-term studies show that a much larger dosage of DHA is required to see benefits in age-related cognitive decline.

GOED did agree with Chew, however, on her point that omega-3s from food offer various health benefits, including for the eyes, brains and heart.

“Omega-3s, from fish or supplements, should be consumed throughout life,” the statement says. “GOED recommends omega-3s for maintenance of optimal health, including supporting cognitive function.”

The study data were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, October 2015, (online 8/26/15)