A lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids predicts better hippocampus-dependent spatial memory and cognitive status in older adults

Neuropsychology. 2017 Oct;31(7):724-734. doi: 10.1037/neu0000373. Epub 2017 Apr 10.


Objective: Evidence from several cross-sectional studies indicates that an increase in omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (FAs) may negatively affect cognition in old age. The hippocampus is among the first neural structures affected by age and atrophy in this brain region is associated with cognitive decline. Therefore, we hypothesized that a lower omega-6:3 FA ratio would predict better hippocampus-dependent spatial memory, and a higher general cognitive status.

Method: Fifty-two healthy older adults completed a Food Frequency Questionnaire, the Montreal Cognitive Assessment test (MoCA; a test of global cognition) and virtual navigation tasks that assess navigational strategies and spatial memory.

Results: In this cross-sectional study, a lower ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 FA intake strongly predicted more accurate hippocampus-dependent spatial memory and faster learning on our virtual navigation tasks, as well as higher cognitive status overall.

Conclusions: These results may help elucidate why certain dietary patterns with a lower omega-6:3 FA ratio, like the Mediterranean diet, are associated with reduced risk of cognitive decline. (PsycINFO Database Record

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / blood*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Orientation
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Spatial Memory / physiology*


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