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Fish Oil Supplements Improve Working Memory

Posted Nov 02 2012 3:00am
Lest you think I'm anti-supplements, I'm really not.  I just report the studies as I see them.  Furthermore, I also keep a skeptic eye on any industry/profession/whatever that doesn't watch out for the public.  Case in point is the dietary supplement industry ( there's no requirement for 3rd party oversight ).  But as we've found out over the last month or so, even 3rd party oversight, whether mandated or voluntary, can only go so far when (vague) guidelines are not followed .

So I don't typically (never say never) report on animal studies, just human trials.  And while I will discuss observational/epidemiologic ones, I always try to point out their shortfall, eg an inability to prove cause & effect.  Which is where randomized controlled trials come in, as these are able to prove that A led to B.  Ideally, we'd like to see larger studies with diverse populations over long(er) periods of time, but as my kids say, you get what you get and you don't pitch a fit.  Finally, I also like to look for outcome data rather than disease oriented results, eg stroke incidence vs blood pressure effect.

In that vein, I'd like to point out a non-randomized human trial of fish oil published last month in Public Library of Science ONE (PLoS ONE)  in which the authors concluded that fish oil supplements improved working memory.  They arrived at their statement after giving 2g/d of Lovaza containing docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) 750mg/d & eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) 930mg/d to 11 young overweight non-smoking men & women w/average body mass index of 25.6 for 6 months.  Working memory, positron emission tomography imaging and blood tests were analyzed before & after fish oil supplementation.  Baseline DHA levels were associated w/working memory which improved after supplementation, despite no observable change in PET scan or measurable chemical pathway.

So why am I discussing this case?  Well, in this small group of young men & women who were otherwise healthy (aside from being overweight) and had good baseline working memory, supplementation improved said working memory.  And that's what counts for our patients.  They don't really care why it improved or how it improved.  Granted, I can't recommend fish oil supplements to everyone based on this incredibly small, short non-randomized, non-controlled trial, but at least we have some demonstration of benefit.  Which is a reasonable place to start.

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