Omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids linked to healthy brain aging

New studies link specific nutrients to the structure and function of brain regions that are particularly sensitive to aging and neurodegenerative disease. Photo illustration by Julie McMahon

May 19 (UPI) — Two new studies have identified links between polyunsaturated fatty acids in the blood and integrity of brain structures and cognitive abilities in aging.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found dietary intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids can promote healthy aging.

“We studied a primary network of the brain — the frontoparietal network — that plays an important role in fluid intelligence and declines early, even in healthy aging,” Dr. Marta Zamroziewicz, of the University of Illinois, said in a press release. “In a separate study, we examined the white matter structure of the fornix, a group of nerve fibers at the center of the brain that is important for memory.”

Fluid intelligence is the ability to solve problems that have not been encountered before.

Both studies examined patterns of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the blood of 100 cognitively intact older adults ages 65 to 75. Researchers analyzed the relationship between these nutrient patterns and participants’ brain structure and performance on cognitive tests and found correlations between blood levels of three omega-3 fatty acids, ALA, stearidonic acid and ecosatrienoic acid and fluid intelligence.

Adults with higher blood levels of these three nutrients had larger frontoparietal cortices, which in turn, predicted their performance on fluid intelligence tests.

In the second study, researchers found the size of the fornix was linked to a balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the blood and a more robust fornix coincided with memory preservation in older adults.

“These findings have important implications for the Western diet, which tends to be misbalanced with high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids and low amounts of omega-3 fatty acids,” Zamroziewicz said.

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The study was published in Nutritional Neuroscience.

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