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Newest Finding Supports Omega-3 Fatty Acid for Brain Health

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
DHA and EPA in omega-3 fatty acid may keep the brain young, finds new study.

There is new evidence supporting the role of the fatty acid omega-3 for keeping the aging brain healthy. Research has linked diets rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA's) to better heart health. Based on new data from the Framingham Offspring Study, higher dietary intake of the omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) might promote brain health by protecting the aging brain from vascular disease that can lead to cognitive decline and dementia.

The study found that even in mid-life lower levels of DHA and EPA in red blood cells was associated with blood vessel patterns consistent with memory impairment even in people without clinical signs of dementia or cognitive decline.

Low levels of omega- fatty acids were also associated with decreased brain volume in the newest study.

The findings, published in the journal Neurology, lend support to past studies that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acid can reduce the chances of dementia.

Lower brain volume and increased white matter was found in study participants with lower levels of the omega-3 fatty acid components after adjusting for age, sex, and education, compared to those with the highest levels.

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The researchers used MRI and cognitive performance testing, correlating the results with RBC DHA and EPA levels.

Study author Zaldy S. Tan, MD, MPH, from the Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research and the Division of Geriatrics, University of California, Los Angeles, in a written comment to the study said, "People with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had lower brain volumes that were equivalent to about 2 years of structural brain aging."

In a previous study reported by EmaxHealth, researchers found DHA in PUFA’s could help the brain repair itself following stroke.

Researchers are also exploring the potential of DHA, found in fish oil, eggs and dairy, for protecting from traumatic brain injury. A study from Dr. Julian E. Bailes of West Virginia University, Morgantown and colleagues suggested the fatty acid might be beneficial for soldiers, elders, children, and people at high risk for stroke, as well as athletes at high risk from the effects of traumatic brain injury. The finding, published January, 2011 in the journal Neurosurgery, “could have tremendous public health implications”, wrote Bailes in a press release.

The authors concluded “Lower RBC DHA levels are associated with smaller brain volumes and a “vascular” pattern of cognitive impairment even in persons free of clinical dementia.” Still, more studies are needed to prove the omega-3 fatty acid components DHA and EPA help keep the brain young and healthy with aging. The current study lends support to a variety of studies showing DHA, found in fish oil, promotes brain health and may protect from disease and injury.

“Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging”
Z.S. Tan, et al.
February 28, 2012

Imge credit: Morguefile