Cognitive enhancement by omega-3 fatty acids from child-hood to old age: findings from animal and clinical studies

Neuropharmacology. 2013 Jan:64:550-65. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2012.07.019. Epub 2012 Jul 27.


Omega-(n)-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) are major components of neuronal membranes and have a wide range of functions, from modulating synaptic plasticity and neurochemistry, to neuroimmune-modulation and neuroprotection. Thus, it is not surprising that n-3 PUFA are widely acknowledged to have cognitive-enhancing effects. Although clinical evidence is somewhat conflicting, probably in large part due to methodological issues, animal studies have consistently demonstrated that n-3 PUFA are indispensable for proper brain development, may enhance cognitive function in healthy, adult individuals and attenuate cognitive impairment in aging and age-related disorders, such as dementia. This review discusses and integrates up to date evidence from clinical and animal studies investigating the cognitive-enhancing effects of n-3 PUFA during development, child- and adult-hood, as well as old-age with associated neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, we cover the major underlying biochemical and neurophysiological mechanisms by which n-3 PUFA mediate these effects on cognition. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled 'Cognitive Enhancers'.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging*
  • Animals
  • Brain / growth & development
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Cognition*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / metabolism
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / prevention & control
  • Dementia / metabolism
  • Dementia / prevention & control
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Membrane Fluidity
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Nootropic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Nootropic Agents / metabolism
  • Nootropic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Performance-Enhancing Substances / administration & dosage*
  • Performance-Enhancing Substances / metabolism
  • Performance-Enhancing Substances / therapeutic use


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Nootropic Agents
  • Performance-Enhancing Substances