Eating fish improves IQ – Is it a myth or a fact?

Eating fish improves IQ – Is it a myth or a fact?

Last Reviewed : 12/25/2020
 Eating fish improves IQ – Is it a myth or a fact?

As a parent, you have probably noticed that your child appears intelligent because you give him plenty of fish? Well, you are trying to wrap your head around it. Guess what, there is an explanation for that. So, in this guide, you will get to understand why that happens. Now, you will get to understand the explanation in a flash. Increased consumption of fish is found to have improved memory in children, but the mechanism hasn’t been understood yet. The missing link between improved cognition and fish consumption is simply improved sleep. This relationship between fish and IQ has been partially explained by better sleep patterns. Fish-eating children have lesser sleep disturbance and better verbal intelligence.

Why Does Your Body Need Fat ?

Fats constitute about sixty percentage of brain substance. These are present in the form of certain fatty acids. It is, therefore, essential that we consume these fatty acids in sufficient quantities for better development of the brain and nervous system. Consumption of fatty acids in the diet is more important in children as they have developing neural processes. The most important fatty acids for the brain are omega-3 fatty acids which include docosah exaenoic Acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA). Useful effect of these fats has been demonstrated by better intelligence in breastfed children compared to formula-fed children as breastmilk has higher DHA content.

Docosah exaenoic Acid

DHA is the most important poly unsaturated fatty acid present in the brain. It is required for various functions of the nervous system like signal transmission, myelination and neurogenesis. Well, DHA is accumulated in the brain during early part of infancy, depending upon the availability in the child’s mother. These stores of DHA determine the amount of it getting incorporated in the neural tissues and influence the performance of the nervous system. Deficient stores of DHA may lead to impaired functions. Consumption of food rich in DHA has positive effect on brain functions like cognition. The human brain is most responsive to DHA during development and maturation that occurs during childhood and adolescence. DHA is also required in the elderly to maintain proper working of the brain. It is often found that diet rich in DHA is useful for slowing down the ageing-related decrease in cognition.

Relevant Studies

One study has demonstrated that consumption of fatty fish high in omega-3 fats like DHA is associated with improved blood supply to the brain areas. These brain areas are associated with thinking, attention and memory. There were increased levels of oxygenated hemoglobin in few specified areas of the brain indicating increased functioning level. There is also evidence that disproves the association between fish consumption and improved brain functioning. These are epidemiological studies which might not have included the consumption of specific fats like DHA and the results also depends on general mortality, socio-economic status and other conditions. There is also inconsistency with the amount, duration and nature of fish or supplements taken during the study.

The story of fish and brain performance is a mixed jumble of myths, facts and some exaggerations.

Myth: Brain food improves your memory, reflexes and performance immediately

Contrary to popular belief, that is not true. Though continuous consumption of food with nutrients necessary for brain (such as fish) can improve your brain performance, it is only feasible over a period of time. The effects will not develop immediately, but rather appear over time after consistent consumption of these foods along with a balanced diet with the necessary supply of vitamins and sufficient sleep.

Fact: Fatty fish consumption is beneficial to people with a deficiency of poly unsaturated fatty acids, especially children and the elderly. It has no significant effect on cognition in healthy adults.

Exaggerated truth: Well, these are food supplements that improve our memory. It must be noted that supplementation of vitamins and other nutrients like fatty acids may help with the brain, but they only correct any deficiency that might be present. But claiming to dramatically improve your memory and IQ is purely an exaggeration.

Last Words

Children with dietary deficiency of the essential nutrients required for the brain might develop disturbed mental functions and behavioral problems. It, therefore, emphasizes the role of nutrient composition of food in producing both beneficial and harmful effects in the body. Many diseases of the elderly involving the brain are due to failure of the protective mechanism which again occurs due to dietary deficiencies. Consumption of brain nutrients in certain diets has been associated with a lower decline in cognitive function and lower incidences of degenerative brain diseases like multiple sclerosis.


  1. Breastfeeding and intelligence: a systematic review and meta-analysis by Bernardo L Horta, Christian Loret de Mola, Cesar G Victora. First published: 27 July 2015
  2. Age and IQ Explained Working Memory Performance in a RCT with Fatty Fish in a Group of Forensic Inpatients by Anita L. Hansen et al. J Nutr Health Aging. 2018; 22(4):513-518. doi: 10.1007/s12603-018-0998-4.


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