Omega-3 supplementation improves cognition and modifies brain activation in young adults

Hum Psychopharmacol. 2014 Mar;29(2):133-44. doi: 10.1002/hup.2379.


Objective: The current study aimed to investigate the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)-rich and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)-rich supplementations on cognitive performance and functional brain activation.

Design: A double-blind, counterbalanced, crossover design, with a 30-day washout period between two supplementation periods (EPA-rich and DHA-rich) was employed. Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans were obtained during performance of Stroop and Spatial Working Memory tasks prior to supplementation and after each 30-day supplementation period.

Results: Both supplementations resulted in reduced ratio of arachidonic acid to EPA levels. Following the EPA-rich supplementation, there was a reduction in functional activation in the left anterior cingulate cortex and an increase in activation in the right precentral gyrus coupled with a reduction in reaction times on the colour-word Stroop task. By contrast, the DHA-rich supplementation led to a significant increase in functional activation in the right precentral gyrus during the Stroop and Spatial Working Memory tasks, but there was no change in behavioural performance.

Conclusions: By extending the theory of neural efficiency to the within-subject neurocognitive effects of supplementation, we concluded that following the EPA-rich supplementation, participants' brains worked 'less hard' and achieved a better cognitive performance than prior to supplementation. Conversely, the increase in functional activation and lack of improvement in time or accuracy of cognitive performance following DHA-rich supplementation may indicate that DHA-rich supplementation is less effective than EPA-rich supplementation in enhancing neurocognitive functioning after a 30-day supplementation period in the same group of individuals.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arachidonic Acid / blood
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / blood
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time
  • Space Perception / physiology
  • Stroop Test
  • Young Adult


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Arachidonic Acid
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid