Higher DHA associated with better attention and concentration in healthy adolescents


The new research was published last week in the journal European child and adolescent psychology​. It was the work of a group of researchers led by Ariadna Pinar-Martí, PhD, of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. One of its co-authors, Aleix Sala-Vila, is a member of the Fatty Acid Research Institute (FARI) based in Sioux Falls, SD.

Data from a cohort of Spanish adolescents

Like many other recent studies on omega-3s, the researchers in this case used data collected from a cohort put together in a different study. In this case, the cohort of 771 healthy adolescents was part of the Walnuts Smart Snack Dietary Intervention Trial, which is a randomized controlled trial to assess whether eating four nuts (or 30 grams) per day for six months improved the neuropsychological and socio-emotional brain. development compared to a control group that did not eat nuts. The study population consisted of healthy adolescents aged 11 to 16 years.

The original nut study aimed to recruit teenagers from high schools in the Barcelona metropolitan area with the aim of correcting for socio-economic differences. The teenagers underwent a battery of neuropsychological tests before being randomly assigned to one of the groups.

As part of this trial, blood was collected from a subset of adolescents. The blood of 332 subjects was analyzed by Sala-Vila using the Omega-3 Index methodology co-developed by Dr. William S Harris, PhD, who is now head of FARI.

The researchers used a standard computer test called the Attention Network Test (ANT) to assess performance of attentional function. The test consists of appearing in front of a screen with five arrows and indicating the direction of the central arrow as quickly as possible. The test aims to engage the orientation, alerting and executive attention neural networks.

In particular, they measured the difference before and after the intervention in hit reaction time (HRT) and the standard error of hit reaction time (HRT-SE). These measures captured aspects of attention, conflict response and impulsivity, the researchers said.

DHA improves attention performance

Researchers found that higher levels of DHA, as measured in an Omega-3 Index test, were “associated with better attention functioning, based on scores of shorter hit reaction time latencies and lower response to executive conflict.”

The researchers also looked at levels of ALA (the PUFAs provided in walnuts), but the signal there was less clear, although they said higher levels of ALA in the blood seemed to be associated with impulsivity. scaled down.

“Overall, this reinforces the long-known importance of ensuring adequate DHA accumulation in periods of life when the brain is developing or changing, with adolescence being of paramount importance,” add the researchers.

Harris, who was not involved in the design or implementation of the study, said the result is interesting and important given the nature of the study cohort.

“What’s new about this is that there is very little data on normal teenagers, even on their omega-3 levels, let alone on the effect of omega-3s. Finding this relationship in what are otherwise “cognitively normal” kids, that’s pretty cool.he said.

GOED: results need to be put into context

Harry Rice, PhD, scientific director of the World Organization of Omega-3 EPA and DHA (GOED), was a little more restrained in his assessment of the significance of the result.

“Although the results suggest that a higher dietary intake of DHA via fish, reflected by higher levels of DHA in red blood cells, is associated with better performance of attention in adolescents, it is important to keep keeping in mind that this was a cross-sectional analysis of data collected for a study that was designed to better understand the role of plant-based omega-3 PUFA intake on consumption on development neuropsychological during adolescence. So said, the original study had nothing to do with DHA. This does not mean that I reject the current results. I think they are intriguing and provide a reason for future research , but they are far from conclusive, especially given past mixed results regarding the benefits of DHA (and EPA) on attention,”said Rice.

Source:European child and adolescent psychology
2022 Aug 12. doi: 10.1007/s00787-022-02064-w. Online ahead of print.
Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acids and attention scores in healthy adolescents
Authors: Pinar-Martí A, et al.


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