Omega-3 deficiency is widely recognised as a major risk factor associated with neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Existing research has consistently shown the importance of good omega-3 status during critical development periods including perinatal and adolescent life stages.
According to new research imbalances in adolescence may have long term implications for emotional well-being and cognitive functions, with the co- lead author of the study concluding:
"In a mouse model mimicking omega-3 PUFAs dietary deficiency during adolescence and childhood, we found strong increases in anxiety and anhedonia which lead to decreases in specific cognitive functions in adulthood."
Adolescence is an important time in development
The structure and function of the brain change most during adolescence, meaning it is important for individuals at this age to maintain a healthy diet - however it tends to be the time when the exact opposite happens. As independence grows they start to make their own food choices and as a result skip nutritious options in favour of easily accessible convenience foods typically lacking in nutrients, especially omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Diet is critical due to the fact omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can't be produced by the human body and must be obtained through food.
What did the study involve?
The latest research was conducted by a multi-institutional French research team, with the results being published in The Journal of Neuroscience.
Mice were used as the subjects of the study as rodents closely resemble humans in the form of their genetic make-up.
The scientists fed the mice a balanced diet until early adolescence at which point some of the mice were switched onto a separate diet which lacked omega-3 fatty acids.
Mice fed this poor diet during adolescence had reduced levels of the nutrient in their prefrontal cortex (a region important in regulating emotions) and the nucleus accumbens (primarily involved in addiction). The low-quality diet weakened connections between neurons in these regions, impairing brain development and resulting in observed emotional and cognitive changes.
The results of the research support earlier research of the long-term consequences of poor nutrition in adolescence, and the importance of making sure food choices contain nutrients essential for brain health.