Citation: Cook RL, Parker HM, Donges CE, O'Dwyer NJ, Cheng HL, Steinbeck KS, Cox EP, Franklin JL, Garg ML, O'Connor HT. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids status and cognitive function in young women. Lipids in Health and Disease 2019;18:194



Background: Research indicates that low omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (n-3 PUFA) may be associated with decreased cognitive function. This study examined the association between n-3 PUFA status and cognitive function in young Australian women.

Methods: This was a secondary outcome analysis of a cross-sectional study that recruited 300 healthy women (18–35 y) of normal weight (NW: BMI 18.5–24.9 kg/m2) or obese weight (OB: BMI ≥30.0 kg/m2). Participants completed a computer-based cognition testing battery (IntegNeuro™) evaluating the domains of impulsivity, attention, information processing, memory and executive function. The Omega-3 Index (O3I) was used to determine n-3 PUFA status (percentage of EPA (20:5n-3) plus DHA (22:6n3) in the red cell membrane) and the participants were divided into O3I tertile groups: T1 < 5.47%, T2 = 5.47–6.75%, T3 > 6.75%. Potential confounding factors of BMI, inflammatory status (C-reactive Protein), physical activity (total MET-min/wk), alpha1-acid glycoprotein, serum ferritin and hemoglobin, were assessed. Data reported as z-scores (mean ± SD), analyses via ANOVA and ANCOVA.

Results: Two hundred ninety-nine women (26.9 ± 5.4 y) completed the study (O3I data, n = 288). The ANOVA showed no overall group differences but a significant group × cognition domain interaction (p < 0.01). Post hoc tests showed that participants in the low O3I tertile group scored significantly lower on attention than the middle group (p = 0.01; ES = 0.45 [0.15–0.74]), while the difference with the high group was borderline significant (p = 0.052; ES = 0.38 [0.09–0.68]). After confounder adjustments, the low group had lower attention scores than both the middle (p = 0.01) and high (p = 0.048) groups. These findings were supported by univariate analyses which found significant group differences for the attention domain only (p = 0.004).

Conclusions: Cognitive function in the attention domain was lower in women with lower O3I, but still within normal range. This reduced but normal level of cognition potentially provides a lower baseline from which cognition would decline with age. Further investigation of individuals with low n-3 PUFA status is warranted.

About The Authors


Helen is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Exercise Scientist by training, and currently holds ...


Kate Steinbeck is an endocrinologist and adolescent physician, and Professor and Medical Foundation ...