Omega-3 fatty acids are well known for their ability to protect the heart and boost mental health. But here’s some health news you might not know: these essential fatty acids may speed up the rate at which your brain processes visual images.
This latest health breakthrough comes courtesy of researchers at the Brain Science Institute in Melbourne, Australia. There, the researchers set out to investigate if omega-3 fatty acids exerted any measurable effect on the brain’s ability to process visual information. They chose to examine the effects of two fish oil products with different EPA/DHA ratios.
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EPA stands for “eicosapentaenoic acid” and DHA stands for “docosahexaenoic acid.” Together, these two fatty acids are considered principal sources of omega-3. Your body has a limited ability to manufacture EPA and DHA. It can convert small amounts from another essential fatty acid — alpha-linolenic acid found in foods such as flaxseed oil, canola oil, and walnuts.
For the study, the researchers looked at the effects of EPA-rich, high-EPA, DHA, and DHA-rich fish oil supplements respectively. Twenty-two healthy participants aged 18-34, with no known neurological or psychiatric disorder and not currently taking any nutritional supplementation, were recruited. The researchers used a double-blind, crossover design. The study included a 30-day washout period, between two 30-day supplementation periods of the EPA-rich and DHA-rich diets (with the order of diet randomized).
The research team measured psychophysical reaction times in the participants. They observed significantly faster choice reaction times (compared with baseline performance) under the EPA-rich (but not DHA-rich) supplementation. This suggests, the researchers say, that an EPA-rich diet triggers a more efficient neural recovery of visual responses following cortical activation and has a beneficial effect on mental processing speed and visual evoked brain activity.
Yet another reason to make sure your diet is full of omega-3s! As a reminder, here are five foods high in EPAs: