UCLA researchers had mice spend a few days learning to navigate a maze. Then some of the mice ate diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids or deficient in them; some mice also drank a fructose solution in the place of their regular drinking water. After six weeks on their respective diets, the team put the mice back in the maze to see how well they recalled it.
The mice who had eaten omega-3-deficient diets were slower at completing the maze than the ones who ate diets rich in omega-3s. Those who drank the fructose solution instead of water were the worst-off of all when it came to their cognitive capabilities.
The mice also had important differences in how their bodies – and brains – were metabolizing sugar and functioning overall. The mice who had eaten diets without omega-3s had higher triglyceride levels as well as higher glucose and insulin levels. In fact the mice seemed to enter a state of insulin resistance (a precursor to diabetes), but this too was reversed by the addition of omega-3s.
The bottom line is that omega-3s may protect our brains – not just now, but in the years to come. “Our findings suggest that consuming DHA regularly protects the brain against fructose’s harmful effects,” said Gomez-Pinilla. “It’s like saving money in the bank. You want to build a reserve for your brain to tap when it requires extra fuel to fight off future diseases.”