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Vitamin D and DHA might be key for treating Alzheimer's disease

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Vitamin D and omega-3 explored for Alzheimer's treatment

Researchers are looking at nutritional interventions to help treat Alzheimer’s disease. A new finding shows omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D could help clear beta amyloid that is characteristic of brain changes seen in people diagnosed with the disease.

A small but notable study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease identifies how vitamin D3 and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) could help control inflammation and improve plaque clearance by boosting immunity.

The finding is especially important, given information published in the journal Neurology, February 6, 2013, that Alzheimer’s disease rates are expected to triple in the next 40 years from aging baby boomers.

Scientists previously discovered how vitamin D3 clears amyloid plaque that contains abnormal tau proteins.

The current study shows the omega-3 fatty acid DHA also helps clear Alzheimer’s plaque, but by a slightly different mechanism than vitamin D3.

Study author Dr. Milan Fiala, a researcher at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA said in a press release, "Our new study sheds further light on a possible role for nutritional substances such as vitamin D3 and omega-3 in boosting immunity to help fight Alzheimer's.

A form of vitamin D3 - 1alpha, 25–dihydroxyvitamin – regulates genes and signaling information to clear amyloid plaques. Omega-3 fatty acid in the form of DHA uses the same signals but different receptors to destroy amyloid plaque.

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The researchers looked at the effect of the nutritional compounds on abnormal proteins in amyloids by incubating immune cells called macrophages with amyloid beta from blood drawn from healthy and Alzheimer’s patients.

They then added an active form of vitamin D3 or an active form of DHA called resolvin D1 to some of the cells to see if they would absorb amyloid beta and calm inflammation.

The results showed both the active vitamin D3 - 1alpha, 25-dihydroxyvitamin – and omega-3 fatty acid resolvin D1 improved the ability of macrophages to destroy amyloid-beta. The compounds also halted cell death induced by amyloids, using different receptors but the same signaling pathways to do the job.

Healthy patients and people with Alzheimer’s have two distinct gene transcription patterns of inflammation. Group 1 has more inflammatory genes and Group 2 had decreased transcription of inflammatory genes.

"Further study may help us identify if these two distinct transcription patterns of inflammatory genes could possibly distinguish either two stages or two types of Alzheimer's disease," said study author Mathew Mizwicki, an assistant researcher at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA in a press release.

The authors say more studies are needed to find out if there are nutritional deficiencies specific to patients that can boosted to help them clear amyloid-beta efficiently.

The hope is to develop optimal nutritional substances that can clear beta-amyloid plaque in the brain to treat Alzheimer’s disease. The researchers say the next step is clinical trials.

Journal of Alzheimer's Disease
February 5, 2013

Image credit: Morguefile