Omega-3 fatty acids included in daily diet can improve brain functioning, suggested researchers who conducted a study on monkeys.
In a study conducted on monkeys with highly connected and well organised neural networks similar to humans, researchers found that monkeys that ate a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids had more developed brains than those who had a diet deficient in the fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids for the human body.
But while they are needed for human health, the body can't make them - it has to get them through food.
For the first time, researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) used functional brain imaging in live animals to see the large-scale interaction of multiple brain networks in a monkey.
These patterns are remarkably similar to the networks found in humans using the same imaging techniques.
"The data shows the benefits in how the monkeys' brains organise over their lifetime if in the setting of a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids," said Damien Fair, assistant professor of behavioural neuroscience in the OHSU's school of medicine.
The research also shows in detail how similar the networks in a monkey brain are to networks in a human brain but only in the context of a diet rich in omega-3-fatty acids, Fair added.
The study measured a kind of omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, which is a primary component of the human brain and important in development of the brain and vision.
The scientists studied a group of older rhesus macaque monkeys that had been fed all of their lives either a diet low or high in omega-3 fatty acids - including DHA.
The study found that the monkeys that had the high-DHA diet had strong connectivity of early visual pathways in their brains.
"Monkeys with the high-DHA diet showed greater connections within various brain networks similar to the human brain - including networks for higher-level processing and cognition," said David Grayson, a former research assistant in Fair's lab and first author on the paper.
DHA is especially found in fatty fish and oils from fish including salmon, mackerel and tuna.
"It would be important to see how a diet high in omega-3s might affect brain development early and across lifespan," Fair added.