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n–3 Fatty acids, hypertension and risk of cognitive decline among older adults in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study

  • May A Beydoun (a1), Jay S Kaufman (a2) (a3), Philip D Sloane (a4), Gerardo Heiss (a2) and Joseph Ibrahim (a5)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 01 January 2008

Recent research indicates that n–3 fatty acids can inhibit cognitive decline, perhaps differentially by hypertensive status.


We tested these hypotheses in a prospective cohort study (the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities). Dietary assessment using a food-frequency questionnaire and plasma fatty acid exposure by gas chromatography were completed in 1987–1989 (visit 1), while cognitive assessment with three screening tools – the Delayed Word Recall Test, the Digit Symbol Substitution Test of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale–Revised and the Word Fluency Test (WFT) – was completed in 1990–1992 (visit 2) and 1996–1998 (visit 4). Regression calibration and simulation extrapolation were used to control for measurement error in dietary exposures.


Four US communities – Forsyth County (North Carolina), Jackson (Mississippi), suburbs of Minneapolis (Minnesota) and Washington County (Maryland).


Men and women aged 50–65 years at visit 1 with complete dietary data (n = 7814); white men and women in same age group in the Minnesota field centre with complete plasma fatty acid data (n = 2251).


Findings indicated that an increase of one standard deviation in dietary long-chain n–3 fatty acids (% of energy intake) and balancing long-chain n−3/n–6 decreased the risk of 6-year cognitive decline in verbal fluency with an odds ratio (95% confidence interval) of 0.79 (0.66–0.95) and 0.81 (0.68–0.96), respectively, among hypertensives. An interaction with hypertensive status was found for dietary long-chain n–3 fatty acids (g day−1) and WFT decline (likelihood ratio test, P = 0.06). This exposure in plasma cholesteryl esters was also protective against WFT decline, particularly among hypertensives (OR = 0.51, P < 0.05).


One implication from our study is that diets rich in fatty acids of marine origin should be considered for middle-aged hypertensive subjects. To this end, randomised clinical trials are needed.

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