Reviews in Clinical Gerontology

Neuropsychiatry of old age

Omega-3 fatty acids, cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease

MA Phillipsa1 c1

a1 Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, UK


The continued imbalance of fatty acids in western diets has led to concerns about the effect this may be having on physical and mental wellbeing. Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, mainly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosahexanoic acid (EPA), are argued to help with cardiovascular health as well as cognition. The mechanisms by which this happens are complex and not well understood. However, results from research in this area speculate that individuals with cognitive difficulties may benefit from increasing their omega-3 fatty acid intake, especially if they already show depleted levels of omega-3 fatty acids. This review examines mechanistic reasons behind why low intake of omega-3 fatty acids may affect physical and cognitive health, as well as evidence suggesting diets high in omega-3 fatty acids fend off cognitive disorders. It will also discuss the small body of evidence indicating that omega-3 fatty acids are depleted in those with already manifest cognitive disorders and the possibility that elevating omega-3 fatty acid status in such individuals may benefit their cognition.


c1 Address for correspondence: Dr Michelle Phillips, Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK. Email: