Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the predominant omega-3 (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) found in the brain and can affect neurological function by modulating signal transduction pathways, neurotransmission, neurogenesis, myelination, membrane receptor function, synaptic plasticity, neuroinflammation, membrane integrity and membrane organization. DHA is rapidly accumulated in the brain during gestation and early infancy, and the availability of DHA via transfer from maternal stores impacts the degree of DHA incorporation into neural tissues. The consumption of DHA leads to many positive physiological and behavioral effects, including those on cognition. Advanced cognitive function is uniquely human, and the optimal development and aging of cognitive abilities has profound impacts on quality of life, productivity, and advancement of society in general. However, the modern diet typically lacks appreciable amounts of DHA. Therefore, in modern populations, maintaining optimal levels of DHA in the brain throughout the lifespan likely requires obtaining preformed DHA via dietary or supplemental sources. In this review, we examine the role of DHA in optimal cognition during development, adulthood, and aging with a focus on human evidence and putative mechanisms of action.
Keywords: aging; brain lipids; comprehension; development; learning; memory; neurodegeneration; nutrition; omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.