• Robb G. Best

Poking at the Omega 3 Mystery

As the first week of the year draws to a close, you may find yourself reassessing those New Year’s resolutions. Is this really the year you write that novel? Will you seriously watch every Oscar nominated movie before Oscar season this time? Here, however, is one resolution that might be both doable and hugely beneficial, if you’re not doing it already: eat more fish.

If you follow nutrition news at all, this will likely not be a bombshell. Scientists have long acknowledged that the particular type of fat found in some fish seems to display a number of healthy properties. To be clear, we’re not saying to load up on fish sticks; this is about the cold water seafood that’s naturally high in Omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, sardines, and herring. From decreased risk of heart disease to improved brain development in fetal infants, there’s just something about intaking those Omega-3’s.

Now a new survey highlights what may be the fundamental link between fish oil and intelligence.

Over at the University of Pennsylvania, preliminary results are in from a study conducted by Jianghong Liu, Jennifer Pinto-Martin and Alexandra Hanlon of the School of Nursing and Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor Adrian Raine.

The team studied 541 children in China, between the ages of 9 and 11. These young survey respondents filled out a questionnaire about their level of fish consumption over the past month (from “none” to “at least once a week”) and took the Chinese version of an IQ test (technically, the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised). Meanwhile, the researchers also gathered data about the kids’ sleep habits—including nightly sleep duration and general level of daytime wakefulness—from their parents.

In hopes of best establishing a clear cause-and-effect relationship, the researchers were also careful to control for a number of potentially confounding variables, including parental education and the number of siblings at home.

The results? Children who consumed fish on a weekly basis scored an average of 4.8 points higher on their I.Q. evaluation than the “seldom” or “never” crowd. In addition, parents of the fish eaters reported fewer sleep disturbances, implying better sleep quality overall.

Again, we have another piece of evidence about the importance of fish consumption. (We also have further evidence that the ability to reach a certain score on intelligence tests is less a fixed trait and more a complex dance involving any number of variables—including, apparently, what you had for dinner.) However, maybe the most exciting part is the possibility that it’s all connected: that the power of those fatty acids lies at least partly in getting better sleep quality, which begets any number of positive outcomes down the line.

It’s still early days—and the researchers still need to do another round looking specifically at the types of fish eaten to solidify the Omega 3 connection—but for now, they say, it can’t hurt to add a seafood night to your family’s weekly rotation.

“Doing that could be a lot easier than nudging children about going to bed,” said Professor Raine to PennNews. “If the fish improves sleep, great. If it also improves cognitive performance — like we’ve seen here — even better. It’s a double hit.”

You may not have any reason to worry about scoring well on a children's I.Q. test, but hey, maybe that extra boost will help you maintain your focus long enough to make headway on your other resolutions. With a little help from your fishy friends, that novel or that foreign film lineup could finally be in your reach.

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