Scientists at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom are hoping to answer this question. According to research already conducted at Northumbria University, a particular fish oil (omega-3) supplement has been shown to improve blood flow to the brain during mental activity and to impact certain aspects of mental performance in young adults.
In the first of two studies*, currently available in the online edition of the British Journal of Nutrition researchers found that overall, taking either of two different types of fish oil supplement for three months had no consistent effect on mental function in 18 to-35 year-olds. However they did find evidence of reduced mental fatigue and faster reaction times. These results suggest that taking omega-3 or fish oil supplements may not have an immediate or measureable impact on mental performance in healthy young adults, possibly due to the fact that this population is already performing at their mental peak or that higher doses are required.
Interestingly in the second of these studies** it was found that taking DHA-rich fish oil over the same time period did increase blood flow to active areas of the brain during performance of similar mental tasks. The researchers claim these interesting findings could have implications for mental function later on in life, as evidence suggests regularly eating oily fish or taking omega-3 supplements may prevent cognitive decline and dementia, and increased blood flow to the brain may be a mechanism by which this occurs.
Because these results suggest benefits may be seen with longer-term supplementation in older age groups, the researchers now plan to investigate this in people between the ages of 50 and 70 to assess the impact of a fish oil supplement on their memory, mental performance and blood flow to the brain.
Researchers are hoping to recruit more people to take part in the study to investigate the effects of DHA in older people.
Lead researcher Dr. Philippa Jackson says, “If we can pinpoint both the behavioral and brain blood flow effects of this fatty acid in older healthy people, then the benefits for those with mental degenerative conditions associated with normal aging could be that much greater.”