This episode on Lifespan News is on a new study detailing how Vitamin B and omega-3 fatty acids work together to improve brain health.
Researchers publishing in the European Journal of Nutrition have discovered that a combination of B vitamins and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA is linked to decreased cognitive decline in older individuals.
The researchers came to their conclusion after analyzing the results of the B-proof trial, a Dutch study conducted between October 2008 and March 2013. While this study was originally geared towards discovering the effectiveness of folic acid and vitamin B12 supplements, the researchers obtained their omega-3 results by analyzing blood plasma samples taken at the time of the study.
The researchers were able to collect the data they needed from nearly 200 people, approximately half of which were in the placebo group.
This study focused on two specific omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA. For each of these measurements, and for a combined measurement, the participants in each group were divided into three tertiles: low, middle, and high.
The researchers describe the cognitive measurements conducted in this test as an “extensive battery”, as they included short-term memory tasks such as digit and word memorization, long-term memory tasks such as letter-word recall, and detailed cognitive tests such as the trail-making test and the symbol-to-digit marking test. It also included the famous Stroop color-word test, in which a word written represents a different color than the ink it’s written in, such as the word “green” written in yellow.
At the beginning of the study, the baseline cognitive ability of participants in the low, middle, and high omega-3 fatty acid groups did not differ significantly.
Vitamin B supplementation appeared to be slightly associated with higher overall scores on cognitive tests after two years, although the difference was not statistically significant. However, the analysis showed that a combination of vitamin B12 supplements and high levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA was shown to be significantly correlated with cognitive health.
The researchers compare their results to those of other studies. One study, VITACOG, also showed a significant link between B vitamin supplements and omega-3 fatty acids in reducing cognitive decline and brain atrophy. A different study showed that a combination of low homocysteine, an amino acid that is broken down by B vitamins, and omega-3 supplementation is associated with reduced cognitive decline. These studies focused on people with cognitive impairment, while this new study was on cognitively healthy adults.
Pulling from other prior research, the researchers offer multiple biochemical explanations as to why DHA might be so important, such as ways in which B vitamin supplementation spurs the transfer of omega 3 fatty acids to the brain.
However, as a post-hoc analysis, this particular study can only show correlation, not prove causation. As the researchers point out, a multifactorial clinical study is required to prove that vitamin B12 and DHA interact to improve cognitive performance in healthy older adults.
But will this change how you think about vitamin supplements and Omega-3 fatty acids? Let us know in the comments! I’m Ryan O’Shea. and we’ll see you next time on Lifespan News.