Higher Omega-3 Intake, Particularly High DHA Intake Associated With Greater Attention In Adolescents

February 21, 2023

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid. However, dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids is low globally. Among these fatty acids, DHA and ALA are especially known to be suitable for brain development. A new study found that people with a better ability to sustain attention also had higher DHA levels in the red blood cells, thus confirming its role in brain health. These days people are more engaged in mentally demanding tasks. It means that humans have to go through a prolonged educational process before they start working. It means that the need for higher mental abilities keep increasing. So many people are struggling to grasp so much information and learn so many new skills.

Therefore, no doubt that people are showing increasing interest in nootropics or agents that could boost their mental abilities. Some are even resorting to street drugs to boost attention span, reduce fatigue, and improve learning. However, many nootropics and most street drugs may either not work, work temporarily, or cause more damage in the long run. Thus, it is always better to use safe dietary supplements, proven to be good for brain health. It appears that one such safe and good supplement is fish oil or omega-3s.

The human brain is mainly made of fats. Therefore, little surprise that it requires higher fatty acids dietary intake to maintain its functionality. Essentially fatty acids like omega-3s cannot be produced by the body. Thus their high dietary intake is necessary.In addition, omega-3s have been found to have potential benefits in diabetic neuropathy treatment. Several studies have suggested that omega-3s can help improve nerve function and alleviate neuropathic pain in people with diabetes.

However, the western diet is generally deficient in omega-3s. Seafood is quite a good source of omega-3s, but in the western world, people get their supply of fats from animal fats and vegetable seed oil. In the new study, researchers decided to find out if high omega-3 intake can boost mental functions or if it is just another hype. Fortunately, their findings suggest that omega-3 fatty acid is really good for cognition.

The study was done on 372 adolescents with an average age of about 14 years. In the study, participants underwent computer tests to estimate their ability to sustain attention and impulsivity. For learning, the ability to sustain attention for longer and lower impulsivity are vital1. Additionally, researchers tested the concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cells. They particularly focused on DHA and ALA, two omega-3 fatty acids known to play an important role in brain health.

They found that those with a higher ability to sustain attention also had a higher DHA concentration in their blood cells. This confirms that those with higher DHA intake have better learning abilities. DHA also seems to reduce impulsivity and thus reduce the risk of ADHD in adolescents. When it comes to ALA, they did not find that it had many benefits in promoting attention, but it did reduce impulsivity. So, ALA can also be good for managing ADHD in young adults.

Here it is vital to understand that ALA is generally high in various vegan sources of omega-3s like chia seed, flaxseed, and so on. However, DHA is mainly found in seafood. Although the body can produce DHA by converting ALA, this ability to convert ALA to DHA is quite limited.

It means that those looking to boost their brain health would benefit considerably by increasing their intake of fatty fish. Additionally, consuming seeds or seed oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also have benefits, though benefits would be less pronounced. This is not the first study to show that omega-3s are good for brain health. However, it is among few studies to confirm that higher omega-3 intake is good for adolescents.

By Gurpreet Singh Padda, MD, MBA, MHP