The brain forms a collection of interconnected parts. Each of these parts tends to age at their own pace however some brain structures start to deteriorate before others. Recent research conducted at the University of Illinois has shown a link between the dietary intake of omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids and their presence in the blood to brain structures and cognitive abilities that are said to decline early in the aging process .
PhD student Marta Zamroziewicz who leads this research together with psychology professor Aron Barbey, explained that in this study the primary network of the brain, namely the frontoparietal network was studied. This network plays an important role in fluid intelligence which is the brains ability to solve problems that an individual has never encountered before. This network however, is known to decline early, even in healthy aging. They further conducted a second study that examined the white matter structure of the fornix which forms a group of nerve fibres at the centre of the brain that is imperative for memory. This structure too is known to be one of the first regions to deteriorate in aging, especially in Alzheimer’s disease. This study analysed 100 adults between the ages of 65 to 75 . Here researchers looked for patterns of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the blood and analysed the relationship between these nutrient patterns and the individual’s brain structure as well as their performance on cognitive tests.
Western diets lack omega-3 fatty acids
Zamroziewicz explained that their research differs from others as previous studies focused mainly on the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. She explained that these fatty acids tend to originate from fish and fish oil and that most people in the western hemisphere don’t eat much of this. She further pointed out that fatty acids such as alpha-linolenic acid and stearidonic acid are precursors of EPA and DHA in the body and that these fats can be derived from land-based foods such as nuts, seeds and oils . While it is known that some of these nutrients are more beneficial to others, the main goal of nutritional cognitive neuroscience is to understand how these nutrients will affect brain health.
In another study published in the Nutritional Neuroscience journal, researchers focused on the relationship between several omega-3 fatty acids found in the blood, the size of structures in the frontal and parietal cortices of the brain as well as the elderly individual’s performance on tests of fluid intelligence. Their results showed correlations between blood levels of three omega-3 fatty acids and fluid intelligence in the tested adults. In addition, individuals with higher blood levels of these three fatty acids showed larger left frontoparietal cortices which in turn predicted their performance on tests of fluid intelligence.
Zamroziewicz explained that a great deal of research shows that people should be eating fish and fish oil as this provides greater neuroprotective effects but new research is now showing that the fatty acid precursors obtained from from nuts, seeds and oils can also have a significant effect on the brain. Data obtained from these types of studies can have important benefits for western diets which are known to be misbalanced . Zamroziewicz further explained the significance of studying the effects of groups of nutrients together rather than individual ones.
 Eureka Alert: American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). 2017. Studies link healthy brain aging to omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the blood. Available at: https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-05/uoia-slh051817.php
 Iran Daily. 2017. Omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids linked to healthy brain aging. Available at: http://www.iran-daily.com/News/193053.html
 Wallace, A. 2017. Omega-3, omega-6 fatty acids linked to healthy brain aging. Available at: http://www.upi.com/Health_News/2017/05/18/Omega-3-omega-6-fatty-acids-linked-to-healthy-brain-aging/8051495127790/