Does omega-3 fatty acid supplementation enhance neural efficiency? A review of the literature

Authors

  • Isabelle Bauer,

    Corresponding author
    1. Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia
    2. University of Texas, Health Science Center at Houston, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Houston, TX, USA
    • Correspondence to: I. Bauer, Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, 3122, Australia. E-mail: ibauer@swin.edu.au

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  • Sheila Crewther,

    1. Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia
    2. School of Psychological Science, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia
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  • Andrew Pipingas,

    1. Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia
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  • Laura Sellick,

    1. Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia
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  • David Crewther

    1. Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Victoria, Australia
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Abstract

Objective

While the cardiovascular, anti-inflammatory and mood benefits of omega-3 supplementation containing long chain fatty acids (LCPUFAs) such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are manifest, there is no scientific consensus regarding their effects on neurocognitive functioning. This review aimed to examine the current literature on LCPUFAs by assessing their effects on cognition, neural functioning and metabolic activity. In order to view these findings together, the principle of neural efficiency as established by Richard Haier (“smart brains work less hard”) was extended to apply to the neurocognitive effects of omega-3 supplementation.

Methods

We reviewed multiple databases from 2000 up till 2013 using a systematic approach and focused our search to papers employing both neurophysiological techniques and cognitive measures.

Results

Eight studies satisfied the criteria for consideration. We established that studies using brain imaging techniques show consistent changes in neurochemical substances, brain electrical activity, cerebral metabolic activity and brain oxygenation following omega-3 supplementation.

Conclusions

We conclude that, where comparison is available, an increase in EPA intake is more advantageous than DHA in reducing “brain effort” relative to cognitive performance. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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