Determinants of fluid intelligence in healthy aging: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid status and frontoparietal cortex structure

Nutr Neurosci. 2018 Oct;21(8):570-579. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2017.1324357. Epub 2017 May 11.


Introduction: Accumulating evidence indicates that cognitive decline depends not only upon changes in brain health, but critically, also upon nutritional status. Decline in fluid intelligence, one of the most debilitating aspects of cognitive aging, has been linked to omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) status; however, it is not known whether this phenomenon results from specific omega-3 PUFAs acting on particular aspects of brain health. Therefore, this study aims to explore whether particular patterns of omega-3 PUFAs influence fluid intelligence by supporting specific neural structures.

Methods: We measured six plasma phospholipid omega-3 PUFAs, fluid intelligence, and regional gray matter volume in the frontal and parietal cortices in 100 cognitively intact older adults (65-75 years old). A four-step mediation analysis was implemented using principal component analysis and multivariate linear regressions, adjusted for age, gender, education, and body mass index.

Results: The mediation analysis revealed that one pattern of omega-3 PUFAs, consisting of alpha-linolenic acid, stearidonic acid, and eicosatrienoic acid, was linked to fluid intelligence, and that total gray matter volume of the left frontoparietal cortex (FPC) fully mediated the relationship between this omega-3 PUFA pattern and fluid intelligence.

Discussion: These data demonstrate that fluid intelligence may be optimally supported by specific omega-3 PUFAs through preservation of FPC gray matter structure in cognitively intact older adults. This report provides novel evidence for the benefits of particular omega-3 PUFA patterns on fluid intelligence and underlying gray matter structure.

Keywords: Brain aging; Cognitive aging; Cognitive performance; Cortical integrity; Nutrient biomarker patterns; Nutrient biomarkers; Nutritional cognitive neuroscience.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Cognitive Aging*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diet, Healthy
  • Elder Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Frontal Lobe / metabolism
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Healthy Aging / blood
  • Healthy Aging / metabolism*
  • Healthy Aging / pathology
  • Humans
  • Illinois
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Neuroimaging
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Neurons / pathology
  • Neuroprotection
  • Nutritional Status*
  • Parietal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Parietal Lobe / metabolism*
  • Parietal Lobe / pathology
  • Patient Compliance
  • Principal Component Analysis


  • Biomarkers
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3