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New Study: Can Fish Oil Pills Really Improve Your Memory?

Fish oil pills—rich in omega-3 fatty acids—may no longer be recommended for heart health, but they could still give your memory a boost.

Last month, fish oil pills were nixed for heart health, but a new study reinforces the benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids found in these pills for improving your memory. And here's what's new about this reasearch, which was published in PLoS ONE: it looked at the benefits of fish oil pills for young adults, whose brains are still developing.

In the study, a group of 18- to 25-year-olds took fish oil pills every day for six months, then researchers tested their memory with a simple recall game. The scientists found that the study subjects boosted their working memory up to 23 percent, and while they couldn’t rule out that the participants' performance simply improved with practice, the results do match what other studies have found in older adults. That is: omega-3 fatty acids may improve memory and other mental abilities.

Now, the fish oil pills used in the study contained high levels of omega-3 fatty acids (2000 mg a day), so you may not get the same results from eating foods like fish, which are rich in the nutrient. So what's the best advice for you and your diet?

  • Your body can’t make omega-3 fatty acids on its own, so you should still eat plenty of foods high in these essential nutrients
  • The American Heart Association recommends eating two servings a week of omega-3 rich fatty fish, like salmon, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna. This is primarily for heart health, but your brain will also reap the benefits.
  • Vegetarians and vegans can get omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseeds, walnuts, and other foods. These contain a different—but still healthy—kind of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • If you are considering higher doses of omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil pills, talk to your doctor first. He or she can help determine how much you're already getting from food and come up with a dose that's right for you.
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