Omega-3s plus carotenoids and vitamin E show ‘synergistic’ benefits for memory: RCT

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

Older man doing a crossword puzzle   Image © Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images
Older man doing a crossword puzzle Image © Jose Luis Pelaez Inc / Getty Images

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acids xanthophyll Carotenoids Lutein Zeaxanthin Cognitive function healthy aging Memory

A combination of omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, meso-zeaxanthin, and zeaxanthin, and vitamin E may improve working memory in cognitively healthy older adults, says a new study from Ireland.

Data published in Clinical Nutrition ​also indicated that the combination supplement led to improvements in attention and global cognition in the study participants over the course of the 24 month trial, compared to placebo.

“These results support a biologically plausible rationale whereby these nutrients work synergistically, and in a dose-dependent manner, to improve cognitive performance,” ​reported scientists from the Waterford Institute of Technology, Mercer's Institute for Successful Ageing, University Hospital Waterford, and the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland.

“These findings illustrate the importance of nutritional enrichment in improving cognition and enabling older adults to continue to function independently, and highlight how a combination of [omega]-3 [fatty acids] and xanthophyll carotenoids may prove beneficial in reducing cognitive decline and/or delaying Alzheimer's disease onset in later life.”

The formula used in the study is commercialized as Memory Health​. Some of the study’s authors support the brand as members of its “Brain Blog Team”​.

Study details

The new study included 60 cognitively healthy older people randomly assigned to either the active supplement group or placebo for 24 months. The supplement was formulated to contain one gram of fish oil (providing 430 mg docosahexaenoic acid and 90 mg eicosapentaenoic acid), 22 mg carotenoids (as 10 mg lutein, 10 mg meso-zeaxanthin, 2 mg zeaxanthin) and 15 mg vitamin E (D-alpha-tocopherol).

The active group experienced significant increases in their levels of omega-3 fatty acids and xanthophyll carotenoid concentrations, versus placebo.

Results from the cognitive tests used – the Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status (RBANS) and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) version 7.1 – indicated that the active supplement group performed better on working memory tasks than people in the placebo group.

“Interestingly, as the cognitive load of the working memory tasks increased, the active group outperformed the placebo group,” ​added the researchers. “Moreover, the magnitude of change of carotenoid concentrations in tissue and [omega]-3 [fatty acid] and carotenoid concentrations in blood were related to the magnitude of change in working memory performance.”

“In terms of clinical significance, the observed improvements in working memory can translate into practical benefits for day-to-day function,” ​they added. “An improved working memory can enhance the capacity to retain information and prioritize the steps needed to make decisions and solve problems. Enhancing working memory can also aid individuals in focusing on the task at hand such as planning and prioritizing tasks for the day ahead or remembering key information (e.g. keeping appointment).”

Source: Clinical Nutrition
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.clnu.2021.12.004
“Omega-3 fatty acid, carotenoid and vitamin E supplementation improves working memory in older adults: A randomised clinical trial”
Authors: R. Power, et al.

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