Not feeling as sharp as you’d like to be? Sure, it may be time to start doing crossword puzzles and reading those books on your bedside table, but taking up mental exercises isn’t the only lifestyle change that could make a difference. The foods you eat can also have an impact. Now, new research suggests that supplementing your diet with more omega-3 fatty acids and carotenoids in combination can improve your working memory.
In the study, published in the journal Clinical Nutrition, researchers gave the experimental group of 30 adults ages 65 or older a daily supplement of one gram of fish oil and 22 mg of carotenoids as well as 15 mg of vitamin E. These participants performed better on working memory tasks than those not given the supplements, and performance was linked to the concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and carotenoids in the body.
“I think carotenoids are the key,” John M. Nolan, PhD, principal investigator at the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland, tells Eat This, Not That! “We don’t consume enough, even those of us who are healthy. They are essential for good health, and our bodies cannot make them.”
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On the other hand, he noted that as long as you are thoughtful about your food choices, you should be able to get as many omega-3 fatty acids as your body needs through your diet.
The recommendation to take these carotenoid supplements should perhaps be met with a bit of healthy skepticism.
Ngaire Hobbins, APD, chair of the Tasmanian division of the Australian Association of Gerontology and author of Brain Body Food – The Ultimate Guide to Thriving into Later Life and Reducing Dementia Risk, points out in an interview with Eat This, Not That! that much of the study’s funding comes from a charitable trust that aims to help develop nutriceuticals, such as those studied here. Meaning: The recommendations might best be taken with a grain of salt.
In fact, Hobbins recommends instead seeking out foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and those with “a wide array of antioxidants and associated phytochemicals [compounds from plants].”
“If selected antioxidants, vitamins, omega-3 fats, or other food components are removed from the original food and consumed as supplements, the benefits available from other beneficial components in the original food are potentially lost,” she noted. “What this comes down to is that it’s very hard to know how the benefits of supplements containing extracted food components might compare to the benefits of eating the foods they were originally sourced from.”
For more on how your diet can affect your mind, be sure to check out the 30 Best & Worst Foods for Your Brain.