Fish Oil No Help Against Dementia

By Amir Khan on June 13, 2012 9:48 AM EDT

Fish Oil
Taking fish oil to prevent mental decline may be a waste of time, according to a new study (Photo: Creative Commons)

Taking fish oil to prevent mental decline may be a waste of time, according to a new study, published Tuesday by the Cochrane Library. Over a three year period, fish oil supplements did not provide any more benefit than placebos, researchers said.

The brain contains large amounts of polyunsaturated fats, such as the omega-3 fatty acid that is found in fish oil. Experts believed that taking supplements could help boost memory and prevent dementia, but the study found no benefit.

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"The evidence suggests, from what is available at the moment, that taking supplements rich in omega-3 fatty acids is not going to benefit cognitive health later in life," Alan Dangour, study researcher and a nutrition researcher from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told Reuters.

Researchers looked at three randomized control studies, considered by experts to be the "gold standard" for research trials, and found that regardless of whether the participant was given fish oil or a placebo, they scored no better on cognition tests, which included word and number learning tests.

"The truth is many people are spending a lot of money on supplements without solid evidence they do something," Dr. Nikolaos Scarmeas, a neurology and aging researcher at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told Reuters.

However, the researchers stressed that although fish oil supplements do not appear to prevent dementia, eating fish is good for your heart.

"While taking omega-3 supplements may not be the key to staving off cognitive problems, eating a healthy balanced diet, including fish and other natural sources of omega-3, is important for maintaining good health," Dr. Marie Janson, a researcher with Alzheimer's Research UK, told BBC News. "We know that what is good for the heart can be good for the head so maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, exercising and keeping our blood pressure in check are all ways that we could reduce our risk of cognitive decline and dementia later in life."

Dangour said that while the study showed no benefit after three years, it's possible that a longer study would yield different results.

"So the evidence at the moment is very disappointing. But there's still an open question - if we conducted a longer study, what would that show?" he said. "Fish is an important part of a healthy diet and we would still support the recommendation to eat two portions a week, including one portion of oily fish."

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