During adolescence, important structural and functional changes occur in the brain, especially in the prefrontal area, which plays a major role in controlling attention.
DHA is a vital component of every cell in your body. It’s essential for brain development and function, as it may affect the speed and quality of communication between nerve cells. Furthermore, DHA is important for your eyes and may reduce many risk factors for heart disease.
According to a study co-led by ISGlobal, a centre funded by the “la Caixa” Foundation and the Pere Virgili Institute for Health Research, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is associated with a greater capacity for selective and sustained attention in adolescents while alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is associated with less impulsivity (ISPV). The findings demonstrate how crucial it is to consume enough of these polyunsaturated fatty acids in order to support healthy brain growth.
“Despite the established importance of DHA in brain development, few studies have evaluated whether it plays a role in the attention performance of healthy adolescents,” says Jordi Júlvez, IISPV researcher, ISGlobal research associate and coordinator of the study. “In addition, the possible role of alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), another omega-3 but of plant origin, has not been as extensively studied,” he adds. This is relevant, given the low fish consumption in Western societies.
Omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids, on the other hand, are recognised as being essential for normal brain growth and operation. DHA, which is mostly obtained through eating fatty fish, is the fatty acid that is most prevalent in the brain, especially in the prefrontal region.
This study looked at a group of 332 teenagers from various schools in Barcelona to see if higher intakes of DHA and ALA were linked to better attention performance. Computerized assessments were administered to the participants to gauge their levels of impulsivity, capacity for inhibition in the face of distracting stimuli, and sustained and selective attention. The teenagers also provided blood samples to evaluate red blood cell levels and responded to a series of questions regarding eating practises.
The findings indicate that stronger selective, sustained, and inhibitory attention are related to higher DHA levels. ALA, on the other hand, was linked to less impulsivity but not attention performance.
“The role of ALA in attention control is still unclear, but this finding may be clinically relevant, as impulsivity is a feature of several psychiatric conditions, such as ADHD,” explains Ariadna Pinar-Martí, first author of the study.
“Our study indicates that dietary DHA most likely plays a role in attention-requiring tasks, but further studies are needed to confirm a cause-effect, as well as to understand the role of ALA,” concludes Júlvez. In any case, the findings add to the already existing evidence on the benefit of consuming fatty fish (the main source of DHA) at a time when the brain is developing in its highest sophistication before reaching adulthood.