Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and cognition throughout the lifespan: a review

Nutr Neurosci. 2011 Sep;14(5):216-25. doi: 10.1179/1476830511Y.0000000012.


With increasing awareness of the effects of nutrition on physical and mental health, researchers have begun to further investigate the benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) on health and the brain; however, these benefits remain unclear across different age groups.

Objectives: The purpose of this article is to summarize the current evidence on the cognitive effects of n-3 PUFA throughout the lifespan.

Methods: An exhaustive review of the literature on the effects of n-3 PUFA on various aspects of cognition, across the lifespan, was conducted.

Results: The research suggests that n-3 PUFA positively affect pre-natal neurodevelopment; however, this cognitive-enhancing effect might diminish post-natally with maturation, as no research on child populations has clearly tied dietary n-3 PUFA to improved cognitive skills. Overall, few studies have examined the cognitive effects of n-3 PUFA through childhood, young adulthood, and middle age. At later ages, multiple studies found evidence suggesting that n-3 PUFA can protect against neurodegeneration and possibly reduce the chance of developing cognitive impairment.

Discussion: Age groups central to the lifespan require further investigation into the effects that n-3 PUFA might have on their cognitive skills. The research examining the extremities of the lifespan provides evidence that n-3 PUFA are essential for neurodevelopment and cognitive maintenance in older adulthood. Future research must develop more consistent methodologies, as variable dosages, supplementation periods, and cognitive measures across different studies have led to disparate results, making the evidence less comparable and difficult to synthesize.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Chronic Disease / prevention & control
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Neuroprotective Agents / metabolism*


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Neuroprotective Agents