BILTHOVEN, THE NETHERLANDS. Cognitive decline (memory loss and a decline in awareness and the ability to think, learn and judge) is often part of the aging process and precedes Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Dutch researchers report that cognitive decline is substantially less among elderly men consuming a diet rich in EPA and DHA (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, respectfully), the main components of fish oil. Their study, part of the Zutphen Elderly Study, involved 210 men between the ages of 70 and 89 years when enrolled in the study in 1990. The men completed food frequency questionnaires and were tested with the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scale at enrollment and 5 years later. In 1990 24% of the participants never consumed fish, 41% consumed up to 20 grams/day (1 serving a week), and 35% consumed more than 20 grams/day (more than 1 serving a week). The daily intake of EPA and DHA among men consuming no fish at all was only 15 mg. After 5 years the MMSE score had declined by 1.2 points among the men who never consumed fish as compared to a decline of only 0.3 points in the fish consumers (a higher MMSE score indicates better cognitive functioning).
The researchers also compared the rate of cognitive decline to the calculated daily intake of EPA and DHA. They found that men with an intake of about 400 mg/day actually improved their MMSE score by 0.2 points over the 5-year evaluation period, while men who consumed only about 20 mg/day experienced an average decline of 0.9 points – a statistically significant difference of 1.1 points. An intake of 400 mg/day of EPA and DHA can be obtained through supplementation with fish oil or by consuming one serving (140 grams) of fatty fish (mackerel, herring, salmon) a week.
van Gelder, BM, et al. Fish consumption, n-3 fatty acids, and subsequent 5-y cognitive decline in elderly men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 85, 2007, pp. 1142-47