Tucker Max on Omega-3 and Writing Ability

Re-reading an old post recently, I found this comment by Tucker Max:

I took four tablespoons [of flaxseed oil] a few hours ago, instead of the regular two, thinking that maybe I could load up and it might help me get back to normal quickly. The pain is pretty much the same, and I just brushed and my gums bled, so obviously the flaxseed oil takes more than a few hours to affect those problems. But–and I haven’t measured this with reaction tests like you do–I feel considerably more mentally alert right now. I don’t know if I felt like this before, and maybe I didn’t notice it because it came on slowly, or maybe I need four tablespoons at once to see a difference, but I really do feel the difference.

By coincidence I had noticed the same thing the day before: I was distinctly sharper than usual a few hours after drinking flaxseed oil (two tablespoons), as measured by my arithmetic test. I had noticed the same thing twice before — years earlier — but had decided not to study it in detail because it was much easier to study the long-term effects of flaxseed oil.

I wrote Tucker to say he had been right. He replied:

Yeah, there’s zero doubt in my mind now that fish oil/omega 3 is crucial to brain function. If I don’t take it, I can’t write effectively.

That’s very interesting. Sure, drugs have short-term effects. If you ingest caffeine, for example, it will make you more awake for a few hours. But drugs are dangerous. The notion that a necessary nutrient has benefits that last only a few hours is new. (The notion that a necessary nutrient can make us distinctly sharper will also be new to most people, but not to readers of this blog.) Perhaps we should eat omega-3 every few hours. You’ve heard of RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances). Perhaps the future will contain RHAs (Recommended Hourly Allowances).

If you haven’t been reading this blog for several years, see these posts for background. Flaxseed oil also will make you smarter long-term, e.g., the next day. The short-term effect is in addition to the long-term effect.


15 Replies to “Tucker Max on Omega-3 and Writing Ability”

  1. Today is my 4th day in a row of taking 4 tablespoons of flaxseed oil. I’ve been taking it in the mornings. Beginning early yesterday I felt a big difference in my mental clarity and focus. I am studying for a professional exam most of the day, so it is more obvious how my brain is functioning. Also, my mood was wonderful for no special reason. I’m sold on flaxseed oil.

  2. For what it’s worth, I take 3.5 tablespoons of flaxseed oil every day around lunch time. I’ve never noticed any effect on my mental abilities. In fact, the only thing that’s ever had a noticeable effect on my sharpness is sleep. I am chronically sleep-deprived. On those rare occasions when i actually get enough sleep, I feel significantly happier and more-alert during the day.

    1. Alex, after I took flaxseed oil for the first time, I didn’t notice any change in sharpness. But I did notice an improvement in balance when I did something difficult requiring balance (putting on my shoes standing up). You may need a challenge to easily notice the difference.

  3. is the energy gotten from omega-3 meant to encourage us to go get more omega-3?

    for example, you’re a cave man and you stumble upon a stream w/lots of fish in it, easily gotten. you grab some, eat them, feel mentally alert, and then go back to the stream and catch more fish–the mental vigor helps you fish more effectively.

    the cave man who didn’t get pep might not go back and get more fish, and lose out on getting a valuable nutrient.

    just a theory. but then you might expect sea food or other sources of omega-3 to have an addictive quality, and i don’t know if they do. some people do love sushi, but i think most think flax seed tastes weird.

  4. I’ve seen a fast-acting effect of omega-3 on balance that I think anyone could replicate: walking on railroad rails.

    On vacation and hiking with my wife and kids, I tried walking along some railroad rails. I hadn’t done this in fifteen years or so, and remembered that it was hard — a game of how many steps can I go before I fall off.

    But now I found it was trivial! I could walk on a rail as long as I wanted, even turn around on the rail and walk backwards.

    The next morning I wanted to have some more fun with my new abilities, but rail-walking was just as hard as I remembered it from years before: I could only go ten or twelve steps before losing my balance.

    What was the difference? Day 1 the rail-walking was about 90 minutes after taking my fish oil capsules (about 3g of EPA+DHA). Day 2 it was about 15 minutes after taking them. Not enough time to get to my brain.

    Sure enough, on the return leg of my Day 2 hike, about an hour later, my rail-walking superpowers had come back. I remember thinking, “Do circus performers and fighter pilots know about omega-3???”

    1. Yeah, and what about gymnasts? On a plane I sat next to the mother of an Olympic caliber gymnast and told her about the balance-enhancing effects of omega-3. But her son never contacted me.

      That’s a very persuasive story about rail walking.

  5. Years ago, I did multiple tests on mental performance and memorization using Omega 3 Fish Oil, and I came away convinced that the fish oil had a big impact on my ability to retain and use information. I was listening to Japanese language instruction in the car, and on mornings where I had taken fish oil the previous night, I recalled information learned the previous day more often and was able to learn new information more quickly. It was pretty dramatic and I performed the test a number of times as some nights I would forget to take the fish oil. I considered that it could be the placebo effect, but I also noticed differences in performance and then would try to remember if I had taken the fish oil the previous night; in other words, I noticed the memory effect before connecting it to the supplement.

  6. I’m curious about the mechanism at play here. Isn’t the omega 3 in flaxseed oil very poorly utilized due to the enzymatic processes involved? I believe the idea was that ALA, the primary omega-3 in flaxseed oil, has only ~10% conversion to EPA and even less DHA, therefore it would be better to consume fish oil? Does anyone have numbers comparing their mental clarity on fish oil as opposed to flax?

    1. That “ALA poorly converted to EPA” conclusion was based on people with little ALA experience. Experience with a food induces (increases the concentration of) the enzymes you need to digest it. This is very well known to at least some biologists. It was the basis of a Nobel Prize in the 1950s.

  7. The short term boost could be mostly caused by the caloric content, assuming an overall trend of weight maintenance or loss. Could someone point me to experiments that rule out this obvious explanation?

    I recall Seth’s long-term omega-3-oil arithmetic-performance experiments controlling for the calories (even comparing against the same amount of some other type of fat). The same should be done in demonstrating a short-term performance enhancement.

  8. Seth,

    thanks for indulging my curiosity. Is there any other reason to use flax instead of fish oil (heavy metal contamination?) I recently switched over from flax to fish oil (this one, in particular: http://www.bodybuilding.com/store/asc/sea.html) because of the high amounts of EPA/DHA delivered per serving (I still use 15 ml). I was just thinking that, sure, your conversion after prolonged use could be way higher, 60% or more, but why not just consume EPA/DHA directly from fish oil? Did you conduct some other subjective “feel” type test for fish oil and find it lacking, or did you just luck into flax’s benefits and decide it was good enough? Cost?

    Sorry for the deluge of questions! Thanks for your responses.

  9. I once walked a mile on a rail without stepping off. I hadn’t had any n3 oil, and couldn’t have said what it was. Nowadays, at my age, it seems to make a difference, but I doubt I could walk that mile with or without.

    I’m curious how the “n3” known to chemists turned into “ω3” in marketing text.

  10. It is possible that the hurly effect is due to low depositories in the system.
    What is interesting is what happens when a person has enough omega 3 for a long time. Is there then a strong sort temr effect?

    Talking from an evolutionary perspective. We are wired for high variability in food sources. Does not make local effect impossible, but suggests that the healthy ways of things are not on having a short term nessecity of food sources (but a long term need for healthy food etc.)

  11. As a result of your years of self-experimentation, have you discovered that certain types of flaxseed oil are more effective than others? Whenever I go to buy flaxseed oil, I feel overwhelmed by the options and I’m never sure what exactly I should be looking for. I’ve consistently heard that unrefrigerated flaxseed oil isn’t worth buying, but that’s about it.

    I saw your response to a reader’s comment in 2007, saying that you took Spectrum Organic (Original Formula) back then. Is that still the case, or have you found something else works better, or that maybe something new in the market is more potent?

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