A study of older adults at risk of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease found that those who consumed more omega-3 fatty acids did better than their peers on tests of cognitive flexibility — the ability to efficiently switch between tasks — and had a bigger anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region known to contribute to cognitive flexibility.
The analysis suggests, but does not prove, that consuming DHA and EPA, two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, enhanced cognitive flexibility in these adults in part by beefing up the anterior cingulate cortex, theresearchers report in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.
“Recent research suggests that there is a critical link between nutritional deficiencies and the incidence of both cognitive impairment and degenerative neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease,” said University of Illinois neuroscience, psychology, and speech and hearing science professorAron Barbey, who led the study with M.D./Ph.D. student Marta Zamroziewicz. “Our findings add to the evidence that optimal nutrition helps preserve cognitive function, slow the progression of aging and reduce the incidence of debilitating diseases in healthy aging populations.”
The researchers focused on aspects of brain function that are sometimes overlooked in research on aging, Zamroziewicz said. “A lot of work in cognitive aging focuses on memory, but in fact cognitive flexibility and other executive functions have been shown to better predict daily functioning than memory does,” she said.