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diet and dementia omega 3 brain benefits dementia and nutrition

Diet and dementia: NEW study reveals omega 3’s promising role

Published Jan 25, 2024 | Updated May 20, 2024

Why should you focus on your omega 3s intake? Omega 3 healthy fats have shown particular promise for healthy brains through research in the last few years[1,2,3,4]. If brain health is important to you, a new 2023 study has some exciting outcomes when it comes to cognitive decline. The ground-breaking new study, including over 260000 participants aged 40 to 69 reveals the effects of omega 3 on cognitive decline including Alzheimer's and dementia. Can nutrition, specifically omega 3 help prevent or delay cognitive decline? Here is what the science has to say.

Does nutrition play a role in dementia?

Numerous studies have found a link between what you eat and the function of your brain as you age - so much so that specific diets have been developed to enhance brain health with promising effects. The MIND diet for Alzheimer's prevention developed in 2015 is the most prolific with 1 study on 900 dementia-free older adults finding that closely following the MIND diet was associated with a reduced risk of dementia[5,6,7,8,9,10]. A key component of the MIND diet and the spotlight of a new study is omega 3. Omega 3 fats play important roles in human health. Approximately 50 to 60% of the brain weight is built from fats, of which 35% consists of omega 3s[11]. There are three main omega 3s; ALA is mainly found in plant oils, while EPA and DHA are sometimes referred to as "marine omega 3s". DHA is an omega 3 highly concentrated in the brain and comprises approximately 40% of total healthy fats in the brain[11]. 

What is the best omega 3 for your brain?

DHA is the best omega 3 for the brain. DHA's importance for brain development and function across all ages has been well studied.[6,8]. DHA helps maintain normal brain function and cognition in adults by supporting the brain's ability to adapt. Many experts believe higher intakes of DHA can help prevent or delay cognitive decline associated with ageing and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's[1,2,3,4]. brain feed developed a plant-based omega 3 supplement that boasts a double-concentrated 500 mg of DHA in a single vegan capsule. It provides you with an amount of DHA proven to benefit brain health through multiple studies[12]. 

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Can you slow cognitive decline?

That is the question a new UK study on almost 270,000 people set out to find and did, with a link between diet and dementia discovered[13]. Whilst many past studies looked at the effects of omega 3’s intake from food or supplements on people’s health, this new study took a different approach, measuring omega 3’s impact on the cognitive decline of participants[1,2,3,4,13]. 

Does omega 3 help with dementia?

A new 2023 study on 267312 participants from the UK set out to explore the link between omega 3 and dementia[13]. The study included data from a biological bank which were gathered from people living in England, Wales and Scotland who were healthy adults at the start of the research process, aged 40 to 69 years old. The researchers measured blood levels of omega 3s which indicate how much omega 3 someone is actually absorbing from their diet. They compared the blood results to the date of the first dementia diagnosis of participants (if they got one during the research process which lasted from 2 to 4 years depending on each participant). They focused on all dementia diagnoses together and also did more in-depth research on Alzheimer’s disease in particular. The researchers looked at blood levels of total omega 3s as well as the specific omega 3 called DHA. Here’s what they found. 

Does omega 3 help elderly individuals?

Research shows proof of the importance of diet in the elderly, especially the importance of omega 3. Dementia and nutritional solutions have been researched for almost a century. The new study showed that people with the highest blood levels of total omega 3s and DHA had around a 20% lower risk of developing dementia compared to those with the lowest levels[13]. Risk was also lower for Alzheimer's disease specifically, although to a lesser degree. They also found that other omega 3s like EPA showed a strong link to lower dementia risk which suggests that omega 3s like EPA may also help protect the ageing brain.

What is the best omega 3 supplement for dementia patients?

The Biobank omega 3 review shows taking DHA after 40 offers brain benefits[13]. Strong associations between higher blood omega 3s and lower dementia risk were seen in older adults over 60 and in people aged 50 to 59 years old[13]. Since dementia develops slowly over many years, researchers speculate that increasing omega 3 intake in midlife could help prevent dementia later on. More studies are needed to confirm this effect.

Does omega 3 really help with memory?

Higher omega 3 levels are associated with a larger volume of the learning and memory part of the brain, called the hippocampus[14]. The Omega 3 & Alzheimer’s study on Biobank participants showed more benefits for men than women[13]. When the researchers looked at men and women separately, omega 3 blood levels were linked to greater reduced dementia risk in men compared to women[13]. However, women still saw a protective effect, just a smaller one. More research is needed on why men seem to benefit more from higher omega 3 levels. On this topic, researchers are informing the readers about the lack of representation of women in studies regarding nutrition and cognitive decline, advocating for a better representation in further studies. 

This large study adds to growing evidence that higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, from seafood or supplements, may help protect brain health and delay cognitive decline. Both DHA and other omega 3s appear beneficial[13]. It's possible that adults may need to start increasing their omega 3 intake by their 50s rather than waiting until older age for a beneficial effect then and in the later years of their life.

Research on nutrition and dementia prevention is still in the early phases. However, findings from this major study suggest that higher omega-3 intake may be one dietary strategy to help maintain brain health and function as people age. More research is underway to clarify optimal intakes for DHA versus other omega 3s so keep your eyes peeled.



[1] Sinn, N., Milte, C. M., Street, S. J., Buckley, J. D., Coates, A. M., Petkov, J., & Howe, P. R. C. (2012). Effects of n-3 fatty acids, EPA v. DHA, on depressive symptoms, quality of life, memory and executive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment: A 6-month randomised controlled trial. British Journal of Nutrition, 107(11), 1682–1693.

[2] Yurko‐Mauro, K., McCarthy, D., Rom, D., Nelson, E. B., Ryan, A. S., Blackwell, A., Salem, N., Stedman, M., & MIDAS Investigators. (2010). Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age‐related cognitive decline. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 6(6), 456–464. 

[3] Kidd, P. M. (2007). Omega-3 DHA and EPA for Cognition, Behavior, and Mood: Clinical Findings and Structural-Functional Synergies with Cell Membrane Phospholipids. Alternative Medicine Review, 12(3), 207–227.

[4] Lee, B. Y., Attwood, S. J., Turnbull, S., & Leonenko, Z. (2018). Effect of Varying Concentrations of Docosahexaenoic Acid on Amyloid Beta (1–42) Aggregation: An Atomic Force Microscopy Study. Molecules, 23(12), Article 12. 

[5] European Food Safety Authority. (2010). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) and maintenance of normal cardiac function (ID 504, 506, 516, 527, 538, 703, 1128, 1317, 1324, 1325), maintenance of normal blood glucose concentrations (ID 566), maintenance of normal blood pressure (ID 506, 516, 703, 1317, 1324), maintenance of normal blood HDL-cholesterol concentrations (ID 506), maintenance of normal (fasting) blood concentrations of triglycerides (ID 506, 527, 538, 1317, 1324, 1325), maintenance of normal blood LDL-cholesterol concentrations (ID 527, 538, 1317, 1325, 4689), protection of the skin from photo-oxidative (UV-induced) damage (ID 530), improved absorption of EPA and DHA (ID 522, 523), contribution to the normal function of the immune system by decreasing the levels of eicosanoids, arachidonic acid-derived mediators and pro-inflammatory cytokines (ID 520, 2914), and “immunomodulating agent” (4690) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 8(10), 1796. 

[6] European Food Safety Authority. (2011). Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of health claims related to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and brain, eye and nerve development (ID 501, 513, 540), maintenance of normal brain function (ID 497, 501, 510, 513, 519, 521, 534, 540, 688, 1323, 1360, 4294), maintenance of normal vision (ID 508, 510, 513, 519, 529, 540, 688, 2905, 4294), maintenance of normal cardiac function (ID 510, 688, 1360), “maternal health; pregnancy and nursing” (ID 514), “to fulfil increased omega-3 fatty acids need during pregnancy” (ID 539), “skin and digestive tract epithelial cells maintenance” (ID 525), enhancement of mood (ID 536), “membranes cell structure” (ID 4295), “anti-inflammatory action” (ID 4688) and maintenance of normal blood LDL-cholesterol concentrations (ID 4719) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 9(4), 2078.

[7] European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). (2009). DHA and support of the visual development of the unborn child and breastfed infant ‐ Scientific substantiation of a health claim related to DHA and support of the visual development of the unborn child and breastfed infant pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 7(4), 1–12.

[8] European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). (2009). DHA and support of the cognitive development of the unborn child and breastfed infant ‐ Scientific substantiation of a health claim related to DHA and support of the cognitive development of the unborn child and breastfed infant pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 7(4), 1–14.

[9] European Food Safety Authority. (2011). Scientific Opinion on health claims already evaluated (ID 215, 568, 674, 712, 1398, 1633, 1974, 4191, 4192, 4193, 4236, 4335, 4698, 4704) pursuant to Article 13(1) of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006. EFSA Journal, 9(6), 2203. 

[10]Agarwal, P., Leurgans, S. E., Agrawal, S., Aggarwal, N. T., Cherian, L. J., James, B. D., Dhana, K., Barnes, L. L., Bennett, D. A., & Schneider, J. A. (2023). Association of Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay and Mediterranean Diets With Alzheimer Disease Pathology. Neurology, 100(22), e2259–e2268. 

[11] Dighriri, I. M., Alsubaie, A. M., Hakami, F. M., Hamithi, D. A., Alshekh, M. M., Khobrani, F. A., Dalak, F. E., Hakami, A. A., Alsueaadi, E. H., Alsaawi, L. S., Alshammari, S. F., Alqahtani, A. S., Alawi, I. A., Aljuaid, A. A., & Tawhari, M. Q. (2022). Effects of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Functions: A Systematic Review. Cureus, 14(10), e30091.

[12] Rafati, P., Hameed, M., Huang, X., & Isyaku, K. L. (2020). Review: The effect of DHA supplementation on the human health [Final Report]. University of Salford Manchester.

[13] Sala-Vila, A., Tintle, N., Westra, J., & Harris, W. S. (2023). Plasma Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Risk for Incident Dementia in the UK Biobank Study: A Closer Look. Nutrients, 15(23), 4896.

[14] Sansom, W. (2022). Study links omega-3s to improved brain structure, cognition at midlife. The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.,complex%20concepts%20using%20logical%20thinking.

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