Omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio and higher-order cognitive functions in 7- to 9-y-olds: a cross-sectional study

Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Sep;98(3):659-67. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.113.058719. Epub 2013 Jul 3.


Background: Biochemical and behavioral evidence has suggested that the ratio of n-6 (omega-6) to n-3 (omega-3) could be an important predictor of executive function abilities in children.

Objective: We determined the relation between the ratio of n-6 to n-3 and cognitive function in children. We hypothesized that children with lower ratios of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids would perform better on tests of planning and working memory.

Design: Seventy 7- to 9-y-old children completed three 24-h diet recalls and a subset of the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Assessment Battery. Parents provided information on their demographics and children's diet histories.

Results: Mean n-3 and mean n-6 intakes were related to the mean time spent on each action taken in the planning problem. The ratio of n-6 to n-3 significantly predicted performance on the working memory and planning problems. There was a significant interaction between the ratio and fatty acid intake; when children had high ratios, a higher intake of n-3 fatty acids predicted a better performance on the planning task than when children had lower n-3 intakes. When children had low ratios, a lower intake of n-3 and lower intake of n-6 predicted better performance than when intakes were higher.

Conclusions: The relation between cognitive abilities and the ratio of n-6 to n-3 may be mediated by an enzymatic affinity for n-3 fatty acids. The ratio of n-6 to n-3 should be considered an important factor in the study of fatty acids and cognitive development. This trial was registered at as NCT01823419.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet Records
  • Diet*
  • Dietary Fats / pharmacology*
  • Executive Function / drug effects*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Neuropsychological Tests


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6

Associated data