Long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and cognitive decline in non-demented adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Nutr Rev. 2020 Jul 1;78(7):563-578. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuz073.


Context: Long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCn-3PUFAs) are widely considered as nootropic agents that may be beneficial in reversing cognitive impairment.

Objective: The present systematic review of randomized controlled trials was conducted to determine the changes in cognitive function after intervention with LCn-3PUFA supplementation in non-demented adults, including those with mild cognitive impairment.

Data sources: Five databases (MEDLINE, CINAHL, Scopus, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Library) were searched systematically along with reference lists of selected articles.

Study selection: Studies were eligible for inclusion if they measured the effect of LCn-3PUFA supplementation on cognition in non-demented adults.

Data extraction: A total of 787 records were screened, of which 25 studies were eligible for inclusion. Treatment effects were summarized as global cognitive function for primary outcome and measured using the Mini-Mental State Examination and individual cognitive domains for secondary outcome. The pooled effect sizes were estimated using Hedge's g and random-effects modeling.

Data analysis: Results from randomized controlled trials indicate that LCn-3PUFAs have no effect on global cognitive function (Hedge's g = 0.02; 95% confidence interval, -0.12 to 0.154), and among the specific cognitive domains, only memory function showed a mild benefit (Hedge's g = 0.31; P = 0.003; z = 2.945).

Conclusion: The existing literature suggests that LCn-3PUFA supplementation could provide a mild benefit in improving memory function in non-demented older adults.

Systematic review registration: PROSPERO registration no. CRD42017078664.

Keywords: cognition; docosahexaenoic acid; long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids; non-demented adults; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognitive Dysfunction / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use*
  • Humans


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3