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Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Specifically, DHA) Improve Working Memory*

Image by BONNINSTUDIO / Stocksy
April 27, 2022

Our brains are quite remarkable. As the body's hard drive and microprocessor, they have several different memory systems that store and process various types of information. And if we want each of those systems to operate at full capacity, we have to make sure our brains are getting enough healthy fats (it is the fattiest organ in the body, mind you). Omega-3s, especially DHA, support our overall cognitive function on the daily and give our working memory a little boost.*

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How does working memory,

Working memory is the amount of information we can mentally hold at any given time—essentially, it's the mental notepad your brain scribbles on when it needs to remember or process something.

Picture this: It's your lunch break and you're standing in line at the salad place down the street from your office. You decide to build your own salad bowl, but there are so many ingredients to choose from—do you want chickpeas or chicken? Kale or spring greens? Beets and sweet potato, or cucumber and tomato? 

Perhaps you're visualizing each veggie, nut, and protein being tossed into a bowl until it looks delicious in your mind, or maybe you're repeating ingredients in your head until they sound like a satisfying combo. Either way, your working memory is helping you hold that growing list of ingredients as you're taking in the menu so you can mentally assemble the perfect salad. 

After you take in sensory information (in this case, that big list of yummy salad ingredients), working memory helps you temporarily hold that information and decide what to do with it (i.e., put it in long-term memory or let it go once it's no longer needed). While our long-term memory storage space is infinite (totally cool, right?), researchers estimate our brains can remember approximately five to nine things at once (though it varies from person to person).

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Daily applications of working memory.

Working memory is used for much more than just deciding what to eat for lunch. Without realizing it, you're using your working memory all day to read, write, organize, plan, and stay engaged with tasks. Here are some examples of how we use working memory in our everyday lives:

  • Remembering the directions to your favorite coffee shop
  • Converting cups to fluid ounces so you can properly measure wet ingredients for your banana bread recipe
  • Repeating the time and date of the doctor appointment you just set in your head (or out loud) until you schedule it in your calendar
  • Mentally counting the number of people coming to your birthday dinner so you can make a reservation
  • Checking you have all the things you need (e.g., phone, wallet, keys, lip balm, headphones) before you head out the door 
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Some people struggle with tasks that require working memory more than others and may find themselves in bouts of transient forgetfulness. If you regularly misplace items you need, you know exactly what I mean. (I once spent 20 minutes looking for my car keys and found them in my freezer, so trust me when I say I've been there.) And even people with strong working memories can encounter working memory problems when they're stressed or exhausted.

So, what are we to do? Is there a way to support our working memory in order to plan, process, and organize more effectively, even if we're admittedly a bit more scatterbrained than others?

Omega-3 supplementation to support working memory.

It turns out there's a supplement that can help us keep our keys out of the kitchen (literally and metaphorically). Our brains need omega-3 fatty acids to function optimally, and DHA is the perfect nutrient for the job.* 

A 2013 randomized controlled trial showed that DHA improves memory and the reaction time of memory1 in healthy, young adults.* When it came to working memory, men saw greater improvement than women, and women, alternatively, were found more likely to experience improved episodic memory (i.e., the ability to recall past events).*

Many other studies have found cognitive function benefits for adults of all ages. DHA intake and supplementation are tied to significant improvements in working and semantic memory2 (i.e., our general understanding/knowledge of the world), while episodic memory is helped by EPA and DHA (particularly when 1 gram or more of these fats are consumed daily).*

Whether you're 27 or 77, DHA is crucial for optimizing neurocognitive function and overall brain health3 through all stages of life—and a high-quality fish oil supplement is perfectly positioned to help you reach your daily marine omega-3 goals (you know, that 1-gram-plus of EPA and DHA)!* 

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The takeaway.

Adding omega-3s to your diet by upping your weekly fatty fish intake to two or more servings a week (per the American Health Association's recommendations4) and/or introducing a potent omega-3 supplement can not only ensure healthy omega-3 levels in the body but also help improve memory and overall cognitive function.*

mindbodygreen's omega-3 potency+ is a sustainable, high-quality fish oil supplement that delivers 1.5 grams of EPA plus DHA daily. (That's the omega-3 equivalent of eating one serving of fish every day!)† Consider omega-3 potency+ to reach sufficient omega-3 status and reap all the brainy benefits.*

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or taking medications, consult with your doctor before starting a supplement routine. It is always optimal to consult with a health care provider when considering what supplements are right for you.