More work needed for fatty acids role in brain health

By Alex McNally

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Fatty acids, Nutrition, Essential fatty acid

Research is urgently needed in the area of nutrition and its effect
on behaviour, a parliamentary inquiry in the UK has said.

A report by the Associate Parliamentary Food and Health Forum, which looked at the links between diet and behaviour, put forward a raft of suggestions to the Government and health agencies to boost research and funding into the role of essential fatty acids on the mind. While the results are encouraging for future research into the role of diet - particularly omega-3 intake - the forum does not go as far as recommending fatty acid fortification of foods. ​The report concludes: "It is now established that certain essential fatty acids (EFAs) especially Arachidonic Acid (AA) and Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) form an important part of the cellular structure of the brain and in maintaining its normal functions. But there is no nutritional magic bullet. "A deficiency of omega-3 EFAs is associated with certain mental and behavioural disorders, such as ADHD, depression, dementia, dyspraxia, greater impulsivity and aggressive behaviour, but the association is still only partly understood." Behaviour ​ The outcome of a trial to test whether an improved nutritional diet in young offenders' institutes helps boost good behaviour is important, the group says, because prisons are overcrowded and there is continuing concern about the mental health of prisoners. ​This trial is being carried out by Natural Justice. Headed by Oxford scientist Bernard Gesch, the group believes there is insufficient emphasis on the nutrition needs of the brain - a key factor in governing behaviour. ​Parliamentarians who formed the forum have recommended that the UK's Committee on Nutrition should further define the optimum intake of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in different stages of life, especially for pregnant women and children. When it comes to children, omega-3 deficiency can lead to a decreased ability to focus attention, which is vital for sequencing letters and numbers, skilled movements, and detecting facial and emotional expressions such as tone of voice and gestures. Depression ​ There is increasing recognition of the high prevalence of depression, including childhood depression, the group found. They added that: "Moreover there is now some evidence that omega-3 fatty acid supplements may be helpful in the treatment of depression."​ More than 31m prescriptions were written for anti-depressants in 2006 in England and Wales, 6 per cent more than in 2005 There is also "good evidence​" of an association between nutritional status and cognitive function in older people. But despite the increasing weight of support for essential fatty acids, the inquiry found there is "no basis" for recommending universal fatty acid supplementation or fortification until recommended daily intakes for adults and children have been established. "The fortification of food does nothing to encourage people to make healthier food choices,"​ they said. Last year the FSA decided it would not recommend omega-3 and vitamin and mineral supplements for school kids following a review of studies which said there was insufficient evidence to support this.

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