Omega 3 for Alzheimer’s

By AltMed1-Peggy  


As we’ve been reporting on the pros and cons of taking omega 3 fatty acid (fish oil) supplements, scientists have published yet another study about a promising application for omega 3s.


The new study, just published in the medical journal Neurology, suggests that omega 3 fatty acids in food may help delay or, better still, prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease and other memory problems.


How did they come up with that?


First researchers gathered diet data from 1,219 study participants, all aged 65 or older, none of whom had Alzheimer’s disease at the start of the study.


Then they collected blood samples from each participant and tested each to see how much beta amyloid they contained. While that’s not a totally accurate reflection of how much beta amyloid is in the brain, given that it’s much easier to measure blood levels than brain levels, at least this gives an indication of how much beta amyloid may be in a person’s system.


Beta amyloid, also called amyloid beta, is considered the “hallmark” of Alzheimers. In the brain, this protein is thought to be a key player in the development of Alzheimer’s disease because of its involvement in the formation of plaques (picture scabs or patches) and tangles in the brain that interfere with normal brain function.


This can be pretty confusing. If you’d like to see a good, clear, and short explanation of what beta amyloid plaques and tangles are and what they look like, one useful source is the American Health Assistance Foundation’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research page. (Or type “beta amyloid plaques” into a Google search engine and select IMAGES from the top command menu.)


As we learn more about how diet affects conditions like Alzheimer’s, we’re finding that certain diets seem to delay the condition — and may even prevent it.


For this study, the researchers were interested in ten nutrients, one of which was omega 3s. The report that people whose diets were highest in omega 3s had 20- to 30 percent lower levels of beta amyloid than those whose diets provided only the average amount of omega 3s. The key difference was just one extra gram (1,000 mg) of omega 3s above average intake level.


As we’ve previously reported, fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, and sardines are the best food sources of omega 3s (because they contain the highest amounts of that nutrient) but vegetarians who don’t eat fish can still get omega 3s from nuts and seeds, though in smaller quantities than fish provide. To see how much you get with various types of foods, look at Colorado State University Extension’s fact sheet on Omega 3 Fatty Acids.


Now the next step will be – you guessed it – more research. We need to find out if the same thing works for spinal fluid and brain levels of beta amyloid – does a diet rich in omega 3s also reduce beta amyloid in spinal fluid and in the brain?


To read the study, see Nutrient intake and plasma β-amyloid.


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