January 2014

Omega-3 Fatty Acids Linked to Brain Aging

A new study suggests that higher omega-3 fatty acid blood levels may correlate to slower brain aging.

The main essential fatty acids in the human diet are omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Fish oil contains two omega-3 fatty acids called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Some nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which may be converted to DHA and EPA in the body. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to provide a wide range of health benefits, including a lower risk of coronary heart disease and improvement in cholesterol. There is some evidence that regular fish and omega-3 fatty acid consumption may help reduce dementia risk. However, results are conflicting.

In a recent study, researchers evaluated data on 1,111 postmenopausal women from the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study to assess the potential association between omega-3 fatty acid blood levels and brain aging. Brain aging was evaluated through various measurements including total brain volume.

After adjusting data for factors such as hormone therapy and heart disease risk factors, the researchers found that higher omega-3 index levels, including both EPA and DHA, were associated with 2.1 cubic centimeters greater brain volume than lower levels. Furthermore, higher omega-3 index levels were associated with larger hippocampus volume, which is the region of the brain that plays important roles in short-term memory and long-term memory.

The authors concluded that a higher omega-3 index may be associated with larger normal brain volume and thus slower brain aging. Further research is warranted.

For more information about omega-3 fatty acids, please visit Natural Standard's Foods, Herbs & Supplements Database.


  1. Natural Standard: The Authority on Integrative Medicine. 
  2. Pottala JV, Yaffe K, Robinson JG, et al. Higher RBC EPA + DHA corresponds with larger total brain and hippocampal volumes: WHIMS-MRI Study. Neurology. 2014 Jan 22.

The information in this brief report is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions. Copyright © 2024 NatMed. Commercial distribution or reproduction prohibited. NatMed is the leading provider of high-quality, evidence-based, clinically-relevant information on natural medicine, dietary supplements, herbs, vitamins, minerals, functional foods, diets, complementary practices, CAM modalities, exercises and medical conditions. Monograph sections include interactions with herbs, drugs, foods and labs, contraindications, depletions, dosing, toxicology, adverse effects, pregnancy and lactation data, synonyms, safety and effectiveness.