-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
FRIDAY, Feb. 21, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- New research in
monkeys suggests that eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may
boost the development of complex brain networks.
Scientists found that monkeys fed a diet high in omega-3s had
better connections in certain brain networks. They noted these
connections are similar to those found in people, including
networks involved in thinking and attention. The study authors said
their findings offer more evidence that omega-3 fatty acids are
important for healthy brain development.
Experts note, however, that research with animals often fails to
provide similar results in humans.
"The data shows the benefits in how the monkeys' brains organize over their lifetime if in the setting of a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids," study senior author Damien Fair, an assistant professor of behavioral neuroscience and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine, said in a university news release.
"The data also shows in detail how similar the networks in a monkey brain are to networks in a human brain, but only in the context of a diet rich in omega-3-fatty acids," Fair added.
Omega-3 fatty acids are nutrients the body needs that are found
in specific foods, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel and other fatty
fish. The study authors focused on one omega-3 fatty acid, known as
docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which has already been shown to be
important for infant eye development.
The study, published recently in the
Journal of Neuroscience, involved older monkeys that were
fed either a diet high in omega-3s or low in omega-3s for their
Using brain scans, the researchers found the monkeys that lived
on a diet rich in omega-3s had well-connected and organized nerve
cell networks. These animals also had better connections in brain
networks that are similar to certain brain networks found in
healthy people, including those involved in thinking, the study
authors explained in the news release.
"For example, we could see activity and connections within areas of the macaque brain that are important in the human brain for attention," noted Fair.
Meanwhile, the monkeys that ate a diet low in omega-3s had
significantly more limited brain networking.
Looking ahead, the researchers plan to investigate if monkeys
with problems in certain brain networks have behavioral patterns
that are similar to those of people with certain disorders, such as
autism and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They
also hope to study how various diets affect the animals over the
course of their lifetimes.
"It would be important to see how a diet high in omega-3s might affect brain development early on in their lives, and across their lifespan," Fair said.
The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative
Medicine has more about
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