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Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Jan;105(1):32-41. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.116.141390. Epub 2016 Nov 16.

Executive functions and the ω-6-to-ω-3 fatty acid ratio: a cross-sectional study.

Author information

1
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.
2
Center for Biobehavioral Health, The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, OH; and.
3
Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC; carol_cheatham@unc.edu.
4
Nutrition Research Institute, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kannapolis, NC.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

The ω-6 (n-6) to ω-3 (n-3) fatty acid (FA) ratio (n-6:n-3 ratio) was previously shown to be a predictor of executive function performance in children aged 7-9 y.

OBJECTIVE:

We aimed to replicate and extend previous findings by exploring the role of the n-6:n-3 ratio in executive function performance. We hypothesized that there would be an interaction between n-3 and the n-6:n-3 ratio, with children with low n-3 performing best with a low ratio, and those with high n-3 performing best with a high ratio.

DESIGN:

Children were recruited on the basis of their consumption of n-6 and n-3 FAs. The executive function performance of 78 children aged 7-12 y was tested with the use of the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery and a planning task. Participants provided blood for plasma FA quantification, and the caregiver completed demographic and activity questionnaires. We investigated the role of the n-6:n-3 ratio in the entire sample and separately in children aged 7-9 y (n = 41) and 10-12 y (n = 37).

RESULTS:

Dietary and plasma n-6:n-3 ratio and n-3 predicted performance on working memory and planning tasks in children 7-12 y old. The interaction between dietary n-6:n-3 ratio and n-3 predicted the number of moves required to solve the most difficult planning problems in children aged 7-9 y and those aged 10-12 y, similar to results from the previous study. There was also an interaction between the plasma n-6:n-3 ratio and n-3 predicting time spent thinking through the difficult 5-move planning problems. The n-6:n-3 ratio and n-3 predicted executive function performance differently in children aged 7-9 y and in those aged 10-12 y, indicating different optimal FA balances across development.

CONCLUSIONS:

The n-6:n-3 ratio is an important consideration in the role of FAs in cognitive function, and the optimal balance of n-6 and n-3 FAs depends on the cognitive function and developmental period studied. This trial was registered at clinicaltrials.gov as NCT02199808.

KEYWORDS:

CANTAB; Electric Maze Task; executive functions; fatty acids; middle childhood

PMID:
27852615
PMCID:
PMC5183732
DOI:
10.3945/ajcn.116.141390
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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