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Fish oil supplements and certain antioxidants work in synergy to improve our memory

Fish oil supplements and certain antioxidants work in synergy to improve our memoryA well-functioning memory is vital for our quality of life. With the increasing number of seniors, however, the dementia rate is on an incline. According to a study that is published in Clinical Nutrition, it looks as if a combination of fish oil and antioxidants such as lutein and zeaxanthin may improve memory in elderly seniors. You can support your brain and memory on a daily basis by eating oily fish or fish oil supplements together with antioxidants from foods such as cabbage, spinach and other leafy greens, and eggs. Another important antioxidant is mezo-zeaxanthin that is found in certain fish and in fish skin.

A well-functioning memory enables us to learn new things and understand the world that surrounds us. Failing memory typically develops with passing time. Around one in three people from 65 years and older complain of memory problems. There can be many underlying causes such as lack of sleep, stress, anxiety, alcohol damage, depression, side effects from medicine, or lack of vitamin B12. Failing memory also occurs in the early stage of dementia and in Alzheimer’s disease, which are problems that have become increasingly common with the increasing number of seniors.
In any case, the brain needs a host of different nutrients that support important physiological functions and prevent neuronal damage caused by oxidative stress, which is a condition where harmful free radicals outnumber the protective antioxidants. Free radicals are generated naturally as part of our energy metabolism and other physiological processes in the body, and even more are produced as a result of ageing, stress, poisoning, smoking, and inflammation. This increases our need for nutrients and antioxidants, especially as we grow older or in situations where the brain becomes more vulnerable to oxidative stress.
More and more evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, and carotenoids have each their own way of improving cognitive functions. For the first time ever, scientists have looked into the cumulated effect of these nutrients on healthy humans.

Higher blood levels of omega-3 and carotenoids mean better memory

The new study included 60 cognitively healthy seniors who were divided in two groups. One group got a one gram of fish oil (430 mg of DHA and 90 mg of EPA) daily together with 15 mg of vitamin E (d-alpha-tocopherol) and 22 mg of carotenoids (10 mg of lutein, 10 mg of meso-zeaxanthin, and 2 mg of zeaxanthin).
The combination of the three different supplements is important. The omega-3 (EPA and DHA) supplement is important for the neuronal synapses where neurons exchange information. Omega-3 fatty acids also increase the flow of blood through the brain, thereby improving the ability to solve cognitively challenging tasks. At the same time, they counteract chronic inflammation that can otherwise damage the brain. Vitamin E is important for the circulatory system and as an antioxidant. The different carotenoids have other antioxidant properties.
The group that did not get the active supplements got placebo. The study lasted for 24 months. It turned out that the supplemented group had increased blood levels of both omega-3 and carotenoids compared with the placebo group. There was no difference in levels of vitamin E, however, which may be because the level was too low to detect a difference.
In the course of the study, the scientists made use of two specific cognitive tests – the Repeatable Battery for the Assessment of Neuropsychological Status (RBANS) and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCa). Both tests demonstrated that the group taking fish oil, vitamin E, and carotenoids performed better in various memory tests compared with the group that got placebo, It turned out that the supplemented participants had better memories and were able to outcompete the participants in the control group. The higher the blood levels of omega-3 and carotenoids were, the better the memory worked. The scientists assume that fish oils and carotenoids have a synergistical effect on memory.

Improved memory makes daily living easier

According to the researchers behind the study, improved memories make daily living easier for people. An improved memory makes it easier to store information and prioritize the things that are necessary for making decisions and solving problems. A better memory also helps you focus, plan ahead, keep track of your daily chores, and remember appointments. The new study was carried out by scientists from University Hospital Waterford and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and is published in Clinical Nutrition.

  • The study participants received one gram of fish oil daily
  • You can get that amount of fish oil by eating a serving of herring or mackerel
  • Good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin are kale, beet greens, broccoli, spinach and other leafy greens, blueberries, and egg yolk
  • We have lutein and zeaxanthin in our nervous tissue and a lot more in our macula (yellow spot)
  • Mezo-zeaxanthin is found in very few foods such as trout and skin from trout, sardines, and salmon. It is also assumed that the body synthesizes meso-zeaxanthin from other carotenoids such as lutein


R. Power et al. “Omega-3 fatty acid, carotenoid and vitamin E supplementation working memory in older adults: A randomized clinical trial. Clinical Nutrition, 2021.12.04

Stephen Daniels. Omega-3s plus carotenoids and vitamin E show `synergistic` benefits for memory: RCT., 21 December 2021

James J. Dicolantonio and James H. O´Keefe. The Importance of Marine Omega-3s for Brain Development and the Prevention and treatment of Behavior, Mood, and Other Brain Disorders. Nutrients. 2020

Nutrition insight. Neuroimaging Highlights Role of Omega-3 in preventing Cognitive decline. 2017

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