Are Omega-3s All They’re Cracked Up to Be?

The latest on the popular fatty acids.

mens-healthby mens-health

Omega-3 fatty acids are touted as “wonder fats” that improve your health and add years to your life. But now, a new review questions whether they’re as beneficial for your brain as originally thought.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine analyzed results from three trials that assessed the effectiveness of omega-3 fatty acid consumption on cognitive function among older people. More than 3,500 people over the age of 60 with no signs of dementia participated in the studies.

When subjects took omega-3 supplements in addition to their daily diet, they didn’t score any better on memory or verbal communication tests than those who took a placebo, researchers found. (Help your heart, sharpen your immune system, and even improve your sex life with the 18 Best Supplements for Men.)

So should you skip omega-3s altogether? No way–especially if you’re young, says study author Alan Dangour, Ph.D., head of the Nutrition Group at LSHTM. Make them a part of your diet today: “There are clear health benefits to having a good, balanced diet throughout life and not waiting until later life to make improvements to habitual dietary intake,” he says.

Plus, these polyunsaturated fats are essential for many biological functions. See, the majority of fat in the brain is rich in omega-3s. Several studies have suggested that these fatty acids may be involved in preserving healthy neurological nerve cells, especially when they are consumed early in life, says Christopher Mohr, Ph.D., a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant. What’s more, omega-3s have been linked to preventing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, and obesity, he says.

Sure, you can enhance your diet with an algae-based omega-3 product, says Mohr. But fair warning: The verdict is still out whether omega-3 supplements have the same powerful health effects as those found in whole foods. The best way to get omega-3s is through food, particularly oily fish like mackerel, herring, tuna, and salmon, he explains. (Before you throw these fish on the grill this summer, avoid the Grilling Mistakes Every Guy Makes.)

If you’re not a fan of seafood, you can also get omega-3s from plant-derived food like flax seed, spinach, and squash. However, your body processes these differently than the omega-3s found in fish. Experts suggest that for every gram of omega-3s you take in from fish sources, you need about 6 grams from plant foods. (Learn hundreds more life-saving health tips in The Men’s Health Diet.)