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Verbal Memory Performance In Depressed Children And Adolescents: Associations With EPA But Not DHA And Depression Severity

Sophie Emery, Isabelle Häberling, Gregor Berger, Noemi Baumgartner, Michael Strumberger, Mona Albermann, Kristin Nalani, Klaus Schmeck, Suzanne Erb, Silke Bachmann, Lars Wöckel, Ulrich Müller-Knapp, Brigitte Contin-Waldvogel, Bruno Rhiner, Susanne Walitza, Martin Hersberger, Renate Drechsler

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Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) have been described as positively associated with cognitive functioning. Current meta-analyses have identified eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) as potentially more effective than docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). An especially vulnerable subgroup that might benefit from these beneficial effects are depressed youths. In this study, we examined associations between red blood cell (RBC) DHA and EPA levels and depression severity and verbal memory performance in a sample of 107 moderately (n = 63) and severely (n = 44) depressed youths. The findings showed that youths with high RBC EPA levels had steeper learning curves compared to those with moderate or low RBC EPA levels (Pillai’s Trace = 0.195, p = 0.027, ηp2 = 0.097). No associations between RBC DHA levels or depression severity and verbal memory performance were observed. Our results further confirm previous findings indicating a more important role of EPA compared to DHA in relation to cognitive functioning. Future research should further investigate the differential role of EPA and DHA concerning cognitive functioning in depressed youths. Evidence supporting beneficial supplementation effects could potentially establish a recommendation for a natural and easily accessible intervention for cognitive improvement or remission.