Photo by National Cancer Institute

Can a new ‘do it at home’ pinprick blood test for omega-3 predict your cognitive ability, dementia risk, brain size and intelligence?

The Food for the Brain Foundation, a charity dedicated to researching cognitive function and helping people look after their brain and reduce their risk of dementia and other brain-related health challenges, has launched a new ‘do it at home’ pinprick blood test for omega-3.

Multiple studies, including a new study, by psychologists at the Linda Loma University in California and published in the journal Brain Sciences[1], have found that the higher a person’s omega-3 index was in their blood, the more white matter there was in their brain, and the better they performed on cognitive tests that predict less risk for dementia.

With omega-3 such an important brain-health indicator, Food for the Brain has launched an easy, do it yourself, home pin prick test, so your omega-3 levels can be accurately determined.


Research also shows that the test can predict brain size and intelligence.

The study in California not only found omega-3 was a clear predictor of cognitive function and dementia risk (the higher the omega-3, the lower the risk), it also found that in older people in good health, levels of omega-3 predicted both their brain volume and their cognitive abilities on tests of memory and speed of thinking (the higher the level the bigger their brain volume and the faster their thinking).

“This confirms previous growing evidence that a person’s omega-3 index, which is a composite score of the two main brain-friendly omega-3 fats found in seafood, called EPA and DHA, predicts both the risk for depression[2] and dementia[3], and poorer reading ability, lower IQ, worse memory, difficulty sleeping, aggression and emotional instability in children – hallmarks of ADHD[4].” says Patrick Holford, founder of Food for the brain.

The Omega-3 index, which should be above 8%, also predicts risk for heart disease[5] and developmental problems in babies from measures taken in women both before and during pregnancy. “Pregnant women with a higher omega-3 index have a much lower risk of having a baby with developmental problems, according to research at Imperial College London from the Institute of Brain Chemistry at the Chelsea & Westminster Hospital campus.” adds Holford. “It is wise for a woman considering pregnancy to check their omega-3 index and ensure it is above 8%.”

The home test kit, available from FoodfortheBrain (dot) org, also includes a free Cognitive Function Test and a questionnaire to complete about your diet and lifestyle that then identifies the key changes that lower risk of dementia.

“We have tested over 400,000 people and our goal is now to track people’s blood levels of omega-3 with cognitive function to work out exactly what the optimal intake of omega-3 for brain health actually is.” explains Holford.

While there is a type of omega-3 fat (called linolenic acid) in green leafy vegetables, as well as walnuts, chia and flax seeds, its conversion into EPA and DHA is poor. The ability to convert plant-based omega-3 into EPA, which is associated with better mood, and DHA which is the main brain-building omega-3 fat linked to lower risk of age-related memory decline and dementia, varies from person to person. The charity hopes to find out whether other factors such as age, sex, alcohol consumption and dietary habits, other than seafood intake, make a difference to the ability to make the brain-friendly types of omega-3 measured in this test.

The intake of marine foods has continued to decline over the past hundred years and countries with the lowest intake have the most risk for depression[6], dementia[7] and suicide[8]. Even the rate of homicide is linked to a country’s omega-3 intake according to World Health Organisation data[9].

“Less than 5 per cent of children achieve the basic government guidelines for eating fish and omega-3[10] however we really don’t know if even these guidelines are optimal for mental heath.” Says Holford. “The more people who are willing to take this inexpensive test and complete a short questionnaire about their dietary habits, plus take a 10 minute online Cognitive Function Test, the more effectively we can discover what an optimal intake of omega-3 for brain health and the prevention of dementia later in life is. We are calling for members of the public to become citizen scientists in this way.” The test, which costs £49.95, helps to support this research.