The following is excerpted from an online article posted by ScienceDaily.
During adolescence, important structural and functional changes occur in the brain, especially in the prefrontal area, which plays a major role in controlling attention. On the other hand, omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids are known to be critical for proper brain development and function. The most abundant fatty acid in the brain, particularly in the prefrontal area, is DHA, which is mostly supplied by eating fatty fish.
According to new research, higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, and specifically DHA, are associated with greater selective and sustained attention and inhibitory attention in adolescents.
“Despite the established importance of DHA in brain development, few studies have evaluated whether it plays a role in the attention performance of healthy adolescents,” says Jordi Júlvez, IISPV researcher, ISGlobal research associate and coordinator of the study. “In addition, the possible role of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), another omega-3 but of plant origin, has not been as extensively studied,” he adds. This is relevant, given the low fish consumption in Western societies.
The purpose of this study was to determine whether a higher intake of DHA and ALA was associated with an increased attention performance in a group of 332 adolescents from different schools in Barcelona.
The results showed that higher levels of DHA are associated with greater selective and sustained attention and inhibitory attention. In contrast, ALA was not associated with attention performance, but was associated with lower impulsivity.
“Our study indicates that dietary DHA most likely plays a role in attention-requiring tasks, but further studies are needed to confirm a cause-effect, as well as to understand the role of ALA,” concludes Júlvez. In any case, the findings add to the already existing evidence on the benefit of consuming fatty fish (the main source of DHA) at a time when the brain is developing in its highest sophistication before reaching adulthood.