BACKGROUND: Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) are promoted as cognitive enhancers with consumption recommended in the general population and those with neurocognitive deficits such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, evidence from randomised placebo-controlled trials is inconclusive.
AIMS: This study aimed to conduct a systematic review and meta-analysis examining the effect of n-3 PUFA supplementation on cognition in healthy populations and those with ADHD and related disorders (RDs).
METHODS: Databases were searched for randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in adults and school-aged children (who were healthy and typically developing (TD) or had ADHD or a related-neurodevelopmental disorder (ADHD+RD) which assessed the effects of n-3 PUFA on cognition.
RESULTS: In the 24 included studies n-3 PUFA supplementation, in the whole sample and the TD and ADHD+RD subgroup, did not show improvements in any of the cognitive performance measures. In those with low n-3 PUFA status, supplementation improved short-term memory.
CONCLUSIONS: There is marginal evidence that n-3 PUFA supplementation effects cognition in those who are n-3 PUFA deficient. However, there is no evidence of an effect in the general population or those with neurodevelopmental disorders. This has important implications given the widespread advertisement and consumption of n-3 PUFA; claims of cognitive benefit should be narrowed.