GOED identifies key areas to advance omega-3 brain health research

By Olivia Brown and Olivia Haslam

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags omega 3 EPA and DHA Omega-3s Brain health Cognitive function

GOED (Global Organisation for EPA and DHA Omega-3s) has published a comprehensive overview of the available literature investigating EPA and DHA omega-3s and their impact on brain health, examining areas such as cognition, stress and anxiety, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Entitled ‘Examining the Science on Brain Health’, the report was created utilising the organisation’s Clinical Study Database (CSD) tool​ to compile the studies for each topic, commenting on the quality of evidence and making recommendations for future research.

Key areas identified for potential within the category included omega-3s on ADHD, plus it was highlighted that significant study heterogeneity existed for investigations into cognitive health and anxiety; a factor that should be considered for future research.

Following a significant recent interest in the category of brain health, GOED’s publication aims to advance this field, identifying research gaps and proposing potential directions for product innovation in the omega-3 industry.

Discussing the significance of the report, Kaitlin Roke, GOED’s director of scientific communication and outreach tells NutraIngredients: “This report is unique in that in brings together a multitude of brain health outcomes, rather than only describing one outcome in detail.

“Furthermore, detriments to brain health are often coexisting with other ongoing heart and metabolic health concerns, making the study of these conditions independently almost impossible. Therefore, future research may support the understanding of how increased intake of EPA and DHA omega-3s may affect multiple areas of health concomitantly,” she adds.

Fatty acids and the brain

It has been frequently noted that DHA may have a vital role in brain and nerve development, with subsequent links being hypothesised between further associated areas of cognitive health. Subsequently, the importance of omega-3 consumption, particularly throughout infancy, has been increasingly emphasised.

It has been identified that one in eight people globally live with a mental disorder (World Health Organization 2022). This has increased the importance of advancements within the brain health field, with research seeking to explore nutrition and pharmaceutical options to improve these conditions.

However, it is concerning that these beneficial fatty acids are not adequately obtained from regular dietary sources. 

In the United Kingdom, only a small percentage of children (7.3%), teenagers (12.8%), and young adults (15.6%) meet the recommended intake of oily fish​, a primary source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Similarly, foods rich in GLA are also consumed in limited quantities, with the typical dietary intake of GLA being negligible​.


Based on the substantial evidence collated within the report, Roke spotlights key health areas demonstrating strong potential for future research and product innovation.

“I think there is promising research continuing to emerge about Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I think an overview of the field of research to date would be helpful for this category, so that we can better understand the evidence based on length of supplementation and dosage,” she explains.

She highlights that the areas of cognitive function and cognitive decline are “clouded” by study heterogeneity and recommends that future research should focus on certain age groups, health conditions, and symptom severity, to provide clarity on the topic and outcomes.

The report also notes the difficulty in measuring mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, and the subsequent lack of consistency across studies enabling for reliable conclusions.

In addition, Roke adds: “From the brain injury perspective, this topic is highly time and condition sensitive and thus human interventional studies are not able to be conducted in a conventional way. I am curious if future studies can be or will be conducted with athletes in high contact sports, and with individuals in hospital after a head / brain injury of some kind.”

Review suggests mechanism of action

A recent review​ examined various dosage and combination preparations involving PUFAs, to evaluate the roles of the omega-6 fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, its potential synergy with omega-3 fatty acids, and its role as a possible etiological factor in ADHD and its treatment.

The narrative review was undertaken utilising data from PubMed, Google Scholar, and Scopus. The resulting data suggest that GLA exerts anti-inflammatory effects by increasing dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) in immune cells.

"Omega-3 PUFAs, such as EPA and DHA, are often co-administered with GLA because these ω-3 PUFAs may prevent the accumulation of serum arachidonic acid in response to GLA administration without limiting the storage of dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA) in immune cells,” the report states.

The authors note that administration of a balanced combination of PUFAs may yield more favourable treatment outcomes, as studies suggest​ that a combination of EPA and DHA with GLA, appears to be associated with improved ADHD symptoms.

They recognised that ongoing research is needed, stating: “Wide variability in sample sizes, selection criteria, intervention timeframes, and the form and dosage of supplement makes comparing results between studies challenging and could have skewed results.”

Additionally, they noted that some studies including supplementation periods shorter than 12 weeks duration and using lower supplement dosages findings were less highly regarded.

They explained: “Erythrocytes only tend to survive in the body for 120 days​, thus short supplementation trials may not be sufficient to detect changes in LC-PUFA compositions. 

“Turnover of PUFAs in the brain is thought to be slower in children meaning that longer periods of supplementation and/or higher doses are likely to be needed.”



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