Science in Action: Omega-3 (flaxseed oil vs. nothing 1)

Do our brains need more omega-3? I have blogged about this many times. My first two self-experiments to answer this question compared flaxseed oil (high in omega-3) with olive oil or sesame oil (low in omega-3). My balance was better with flaxseed oil, suggesting the answer is yes. However, another interpretation is (a) flaxseed oil had no effect and (b) sesame oil and olive oil made my balance worse. To test this possibility, I compared flaxseed oil to nothing (no supplement). If flaxseed oil has no effect, the two conditions should be the same. If flaxseed oil improves my balance, my balance should be better during the flaxseed-oil condition.

During the flaxseed-oil condition, I drank 4 tablespoons/day of flaxseed oil — 2 at 10 am, 2 at 10 pm. The balance test was at 8 am the next day. During both conditions, I did not eat fish.

Here are the results:

flaxseed oil vs. nothing
There was a large and very clear difference between the conditions. It took about three days of no flaxseed oil before the difference stopped increasing. On the first day of resumption of the flaxseed oil, my balance was much better than the day before. Comparing the two conditions (omitting the first three days of the nothing condition), t = 7.

These results support the idea that flaxseed oil made my brain work better.

Are injury-causing falls the new scurvy? The large fast improvement in my balance when I resumed flaxseed oil does resemble the large fast improvement when a person with scurvy eats oranges.

I was surprised by the time course of the decrement during the no-flaxseed condition: It looks different than what happened when I drank olive oil. In this experiment, my balance got worse for about 3 days and then stopped getting worse. In the previous experiment, my balance appeared to get worse for at least 9 days. This may due to the high omega-6 content of olive oil — omega-6 (almost identical to omega-3) may displace omega-3. In the absence of omega-6, omega-3 takes longer to deplete.

4 Responses to “Science in Action: Omega-3 (flaxseed oil vs. nothing 1)”

  1. Rick Says:

    Would you get the same results with fish oil?

  2. seth Says:

    Good question. Comparison of fish oil and flaxseed oil is high on my list of things to do.

  3. peter Says:

    i note that your scores increased significantly after you “cycled” off flax seed oil. There is theory, mostly applied to exercise, where the results are better if one cycles on and off intense exercise, i.e., a short period of intense exercise followed by rest or low level exercise. see, A Healthy Mix of Rest and Motion

    this theory has been applied generally to all activities, e.g., showering alternatively with hot and cold water etc..

    I wonder if cycling on an off flax seed oil would improve ones score and ultimately result in a higher level of performance?

  4. seth Says:

    My balance scores have always increased whenever I do the test — the general term for this is “practice effect”. In other words, I don’t think the “time off” had anything to do with it. Notice how the results “after” nothing fall on a line that fits the “before” nothing points — they show steady improvement, too.

    If you look at the other balance data I have posted, you will see there has always been steady improvement. I think it is due to more and more of the brain being devoted to the task. The exercise effect you talk about is surely due to a different mechanism.