It’s nice to think that you could take a pill that would help preserve cognitive ability as you age, but alas, that doesn’t seem to be a practical strategy so far. A new study looked at whether supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids made any difference and came to a disappointing conclusion.

Omega-3s are found in many types of fatty fish as well as plant foods, such as flaxseed, walnuts, soy products, and canola and soybean oils. Omega-3s are linked to several health benefits, such as combating heart disease and protecting eye health. Previous studies have also hinted that the nutrient may protect brain health, so researchers at the National Institutes of Health enrolled 4,000 patients in a study and followed them over a five-year period. The average study participant was 72 years old, and 58 percent of them were female. They were placed on one of three types of supplements that included various nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, or a placebo (a harmless inactive pill). Researchers gave cognitive function tests at the beginning of the study, then at the two-year and four-year mark. They reported that no combination of nutritional supplements had an effect on cognition.

Alzheimer’s is already the most common cause of dementia, with 5.1 million Americans diagnosed, and that number could triple in the next 40 years.. But the jury is still out on whether consumption of certain foods may help protect cognitive health, says Lenore Launer, PhD, senior investigator in the Laboratory of Epidemiology and Population Science at the National Institute on Aging.

“It may be, for example, that the timing of nutrients, or consuming them in a certain dietary pattern, has an impact,” she says. “More research would be needed to see if dietary patterns or taking the supplements earlier in the development of diseases like Alzheimer’s would make a difference.”

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