Research suggests there may be a positive association between omega-3 fatty acids, one of the good fats, and brain development. In fact, University of Pittsburgh researchers found a dietary intake of fish and omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to improve both early brain development and middle aged brain development, which may slow the onset of cognitive decline as you age.
One recent study published in the Annals of Neurology demonstrated that monounsaturated fats can also play a positive role in cognitive function in older women. The study examined the relationship between the consumption of certain types of fat and cognitive change in healthy older women over a four year period. Results showed that the women who consumed the most saturated fat had cognitive changes that were similar to those women who were five to six years older than them. When researchers compared the women who consumed the most versus the least amount of monounsaturated fats, the cognitive differences were akin to six to seven fewer years of aging.
Research recently published in Neurology further supports the notion that dietary fats can affect the human brain. In a study assessing levels of omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cells and brain volume in more than 1,000 postmenopausal women, results showed a larger than normal brain and hippocampal volume in women with the highest levels of omega-3s. The hippocampus is the region of the brain involved with memory, specifically long-term memory, and is affected by dementia.
Brain atrophy is a normal part of the aging process. Study authors noted that the women with the highest levels of omega-3s in their red blood cells still experienced brain atrophy but to a lesser extent compared to the women with lower levels of omega-3s. These results could equate to better brain function for an extra one to two years later in life.
Additionally, researchers have found that infants born to mothers with higher blood levels of omega-3 (specifically DHA) at delivery had advanced levels of attention spans well into their second year of life. Another study out of Norway found that 4-year-olds scored better on IQ tests if their mothers took DHA supplements or consumed adequate amounts of DHA during pregnancy and breastfeeding.