Science in Action: Omega-3 (time course 2, with eggs)

Last week, I tried to measure again the time course of flaxseed oil’s effect on how well my brain works. As before, I used a letter-counting test. The test consists of trials where I see a four-letter display such as ECQZ and type as quickly as possible how many letters from ABCD are among them (in this case, 1). 200 trials per test, about one test per hour.

On Tuesday, about 3 pm, I drank 4 tablespoons of flaxseed oil. Here’s what happened:

graph of flaxseed oil results

The flaxseed oil seemed to reduce reaction time. The maximum reduction was 40 milliseconds, which happened 2-3 hours after drinking the oil. The effect was gone about 6 hours after drinking it.

The next day I expected my scores to be close to the pre-drink baseline. At 5 pm my score was much lower than expected. The difference from baseline was close to the effect of flaxseed oil; moreover, it disappeared at close to the same speed as the flaxseed-oil effect disappeared.

Although surprising, this had a plausible explanation: About three hours earlier, I had eaten three eggs from grass-fed (also called range-fed) chickens. (More precisely, I had had one egg in a smoothie at 11 am and two scrambled eggs at 2 pm.) Such eggs are believed to be high in omega-3. A 1992 paper compared the amount of omega-3 in supermarket eggs and eggs from a Greek farm, where the chickens ate “fresh green grass leaves and wild plants including purslane . . . fresh and dry figs, barley flour . . . insects of all kinds.” The supermarket eggs had little omega-3; the Greek eggs 10 times more.

My eggs came from the Bay Area Meat CSA, run by Tamar Adler (tamareadler a/t, a chef at Chez Panisse, who is looking for new members. Pickups in Berkeley and San Francisco.