Can Fatty Acids Found In Fish Oil Help Prevent Alzheimer’s?
New research from the University of South Dakota suggests a supplement easily found in your local grocery store may have a protective effect on the brain’s cells. This could potentially lead to breakthroughs in preventing people from Alzheimer’s disease.
The study, published in the online issue of Neurology, reports that individuals with higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids – found in large amounts in fish and fish oil – may have larger brain volumes in old age. Because shrinking brain volume is often associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s, this could potentially have a significant affect on how we treat and prevent Alzheimer’s in the future.
Experts have long suspected omega-3’s could help slow brain cell death and even potentially inspire cell repair. Many have suggested the fatty acids found in fish oil could help brain injury and dementia patients recover from their injuries and manage their cognitive deficits. However, there have been few scientific studies to back up the home remedies until recently.
As Fox News journalist Loren Grush explains, Omega-3s consist of three types of fats. ALA is found in plant oils, while EPA and DHA are found in marine oils. The brain is also rich in DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids.
“It’s there for one reason or another,” lead author Dr. Bill Harris, professor of medicine at Sanford School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota, explained. “And then other studies have led people to think that…fish is brain food. People have seen that populations that eat more fish have less dementia …so it seemed like a natural thing to look at.”
Harris and his colleague James Pottala analyzed red blood cell samples from 1,111 post-menopausal women with an average age of 70 as part of the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study. Eight years after the blood samples were taken, the women underwent MRI scans to measure their brain volumes.
The researchers measured the levels of EPA and DHA fatty acids in the blood samples, and compared the findings with the results from the scans. They found that women with higher levels of omega-3s had larger total brain volumes eight years later, and the MRIs indicated that higher levels of the fatty acids were associated with an increased volume in the hippocampus.
“The hippocampus is known to be related to the progression of dementia,” Harris said. “As it shrinks, dementia becomes more of a problem. So we did find that people with higher omega-3s had higher volumes in the hippocampus – located right in the middle of the head, right at the top of the brain stem.”
There is still a lot that is unknown about what role the fatty acids actually play in preventing cell death, brain shrinking, and cognitive deficiencies. Until researchers learn more about how omega-3s interact inside the body, fish oil can’t be treated as a medical treatment for any brain illnesses or injuries. However, Harris and Pottala’s findings offer hope for possible treatment and prevention in the future.