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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A Lifelong Mission

By Michael McBurney

What does $2.5 million dollars get a scientist in 2014? The answer is a 10 year, double-blind randomized controlled trial (RCT) to determine whether prenatal supplementation with omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA), especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) benefits children’s intelligence and school readiness.

This is important research. Higher levels of DHA in the blood of children have been correlated with better sleep and improved reading and behavior in healthy but underperforming children. Given widespread low intake of omega-3 LCPUFA (and high intake of omega-6 LCPUFA), their essentiality for brain structure and function, researchers are evaluating the effects of dosage and length of supplementation in children. By supplementing pregnant women and measuring omega-3 fatty acid status, researchers should find some definitive answers.

Studies suggests that balancing omega-3 to omega-6 intake may be more than a childhood development concern. Molfino and associates reviewed the literature on omega-3 fatty acids supplementation in older adults with respect to the maintenance of brain and cardiovascular health. An omega-3 index, calculated from the EPA+DHA content of red blood cell membranes and expressed as a percentage of total identified fatty acids, ≥ 8%, was optimal. An omega-3 index <4% was less than optimal. Proposed mechanisms of action on heart health include omega-3 effects on pro-inflammatory cytokines and in support muscle protein synthesis.

Ageing is associated with the onset of many risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Weight gain and reduced physical activity exacerbate these risks. Supplementing with EPA+DHA can help maintain healthy triglyceride concentrations.  DHA is also a structural component of the brain.

Just as life-work balance is important, keeping omega-3 to omega-6 balance with an omega-3 index of at least 4% is recommended.  

Main Citation

Molfino A, Gioia G, Fanelli FR, Muscaritoli M. The role of dietary omega-3 fatty acids supplementation in older adults. 2014 Nutr doi: 10.3390/nu6104058

Other Citations

Montgomery P, Burton JR, Sewell RP, Spreckelsen TF, Richardson AJ. Fatty acids and sleep in UK children: subjective and pilot objective sleep results from the DOLAB study – a randomized controlled trial. 2014 J Sleep Res doi: 10.1111/jsr.12135

Richardson AJ, Burton JR, Sewell RP, Spreckelsen TF, Montgomery P. Docosahexaenoic acid for reading, cognition, and behavior in children aged 7-9 years: A randomized, controlled trial (The DOLAB Study). 2012 PLoS ONE doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043909

Sheppard KW, Cheatham CL. Omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio and higher-order cognitive functions in 7- to 9-y-olds: a cross-sectional study. 2013 Am J Clin Nutr doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.058719

Parletta N, Cooper P, Gent DN, Petkov J, O’Dea K. Effects of fish oil supplementation on learning and behavior of children from Australian Indigenous remote community schools: A randomized controlled trial. 2013 doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2013.05.001

Maki KC, Yurko-Mauro K, Dicklin MR, Schild AL, Geohas JG. A new, microalgal DHA- and EPA-containing oil lowers triacylglycerols in adults with mild-to-moderate hypertriglyceridemia. 2014 PLEFA doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2014.07.012

Bradbury J. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): An ancient nutrient for the modern human brain. 2011 Nutr doi: 10.3390/nu3050529