The importance of the essential, dietary-derived, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) omega-6 and omega-3 to human health was first reported over 85 years ago. Subsequent research has revealed many beneficial effects of the omega-3 PUFAs in particular. This has been linked to their involvement in multiple biochemical functions, including synthesis of inflammatory mediators, cell membrane fluidity, intracellular signalling and gene expression. Through these pathways, the omega-3 PUFAs help modulate aspects of inflammation and immunity, cell growth and tissue repair. While a detailed understanding of the mechanisms involved in the role of omega-3 PUFAs to health in the central nervous system (CNS) is still to be elucidated, a role for both inflammatory modulation and a direct impact on neuronal membrane fluidity and receptor function is apparent. At least partially through these mechanisms, low omega-3 levels have been associated with CNS-linked disorders such as poor cognition, depression, anxiety disorders, poor anger control, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and accelerated neurodegeneration in the elderly.Following a brief introduction to the history and chemistry of the omega-3 family of PUFAs, this chapter will provide an overview of the omega-3 fatty acids and how various members of this PUFA family influence central nervous system function leading towards either health or disease.
Keywords: CNS; Dementia; Depression; Inflammation; Neurodegenerative; Omega-3.