Effect of omega-3 fatty acids on cognition: an updated systematic review of randomized clinical trials

Nutr Rev. 2018 Jan 1;76(1):1-20. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nux064.


Context: The increasing number of studies on the effects of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs) on health, particularly cognition, in the last 5 years reflects the growing interest in this area of research.

Objective: The aim for this systematic review was to evaluate the scientific evidence published in the last 5 years (2012-2017) on the effects of n-3 LC-PUFA intake on cognition, cognitive development, and cognitive decline to determine whether n-3 LC-PUFAs support cognitive development and prevent cognitive decline.

Data sources: The PubMed database was searched.

Study selection: The 51 articles included in this systematic review reported on healthy individuals with mild or moderate cognitive impairment and patients with Alzheimer's disease. Risk of bias was assessed using Cochrane methodology.

Data extraction: The number of study participants, the type of study, the type and dose of n-3 LC-PUFAs, and the key results are reported here.

Results: Current evidence indicates that n-3 LC-PUFAs administered during pregnancy or breastfeeding have no effect on the skills or cognitive development of children in later stages of development. Evidence regarding the improvement of cognitive function during childhood and youth or in attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder is inconclusive. Moreover, it is still unclear if n-3 LC-PUFAs can improve cognitive development or prevent cognitive decline in young or older adults.

Keywords: cognition; cognitive development; omega-3; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cognition* / drug effects
  • Cognition* / physiology
  • Diet
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3* / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3* / pharmacology
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3* / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3