The International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease, held this year in Paris, was the site of a presentation by Lori Daiello, PharmD of the finding of differences in brain structure between individuals who supplement with fish oil and those who do not. Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which have been associated with improved cognitive function.
The current study included 819 participants in the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), which conducted periodic brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and memory testing on older adults with normal cognitive function, mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease over a three year period. Dr Daiello and her colleagues compared data obtained from 117 men and women who reported regular fish oil supplement use with data from 702 nonusers.
The team found greater brain volume and better cognitive function over follow-up in fish oil users who did not test positive for the APOE4 gene, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. "In the imaging analyses for the entire study population, we found a significant positive association between fish oil supplement use and average brain volumes in two critical areas utilized in memory and thinking (cerebral cortex and hippocampus), as well as smaller brain ventricular volumes compared to non-users at any given time in the study," commented Dr Daiello, who is a research scientist at the Rhode Island Hospital Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center. "In other words, fish oil use was associated with less brain shrinkage in patients taking these supplements during the ADNI study compared to those who didn't report using them."
"These observations should motivate further study of the possible effects of long-term fish oil supplementation on important markers of cognitive decline and the potential influence of genetics on these outcomes," she added.
"The association between fish oil supplements and brain structural differences between users and nonusers in all three groups is novel and deserves further investigation," the authors conclude. "While a causal effect of fish oil supplements on these outcomes cannot be concluded from the results of this observational study, the findings suggest possible benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on brain health and aging."
Over the past 10 years, scientific studies have revealed the remarkable effects that fish consumption has on neurological function. Fish oils contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which are omega-3 oils. DHA is essential to brain health because it constitutes between 30 and 50 percent of the total fatty acid content of the human brain (Young G et al 2005).
Deficiencies in DHA have been linked to cognitive decline, and human cell studies have shown that DHA reduces beta-amyloid secretion (Lukiw WJ et al 2005). DHA has been documented to increase phosphatidylserine, a naturally occurring component found in every cell membrane of the body (Akbar M et al 2005). DHA may also improve the memory of animals with Alzheimer's disease by suppressing oxidative damage in the brain (Hashimoto M et al 2005). In a 10-year study that tracked the DHA levels of 1188 elderly subjects, Alzheimer's disease was 67 percent more likely to develop in those whose DHA levels were in the lower half of the distribution (Kyle DJ et al 1999).
Scientists have recently developed a compound that takes DHA and binds it to a lecithin extract that has itself been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly. Laboratory studies document that this patented compound delivers higher DHA concentrations to brain cells.
One of lecithin's most effective brain-protecting extracts is phosphatidylserine. Phosphatidylserine supports healthy levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, facilitates brain cell energy metabolism, and provides structural support for brain cell membranes.
Scientists have discovered that DHA attaches itself to phosphatidylserine molecules and acts as an important ally in the promotion of brain cell energy production. A number of brain researchers, such as Dr. Norman Salem, head of the Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics at the National Institutes of Health, are convinced that phosphatidylserine with attached DHA is among the most critically important molecules for healthy brain function. Scientists believe that phosphatidylserine supplementation works optimally if DHA levels are kept commensurately high (Kidd P 2005).
In response to an increasing body of research showing the intricate relationship between DHA and phosphatidylserine, scientists have developed a phosphatidylserine-DHA (PS-DHA) compound that can be incorporated directly into the membranes of brain cells.
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