Life Extension Update
Tuesday, February 28, 2012. The February 28, 2012 edition of the journal Neurology® reports a beneficial effect for higher red blood cell membrane levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, an omega 3 fatty acid) on brain volume and memory in older men and women. "To our knowledge, no prior study has related red blood cell fatty acid composition to subclinical markers of future dementia," the authors note in their introduction to the article.
For their research, Zaldy S. Tan, MD, MPH, of the Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research and the Division of Geriatrics at the University of California at Los Angeles and colleagues measured red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels in 1,575 dementia-free subjects with an average age of 67. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) assessed brain volume, and cognitive tests evaluated various aspects of memory and mental function.
Dr Tan's team found a reduction in total cerebral brain volume, visual memory, executive function (which includes organizing and multi-tasking) and abstract thinking, among those whose DHA intake was among the lowest 25 percent of participants compared to those whose intake was higher. "People with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had lower brain volumes that were equivalent to about two years of structural brain aging," Dr Tan observed.
Participants in the lowest 25 percent of DHA also had greater white matter intensity volume, which is increased in small vessel disease and has been associated with an increased risk of stroke and dementia. The authors remark that DHA lowers blood pressure, reduces the risk of clots and decreases serum triglyceride levels, all of which benefit the vascular system and may help delay the onset of brain aging.
"Lower red blood cell DHA levels are associated with smaller brain volumes and a 'vascular' pattern of cognitive impairment even in persons free of clinical dementia," the authors conclude. "The association between lower red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated cognitive and structural brain aging observed here should be confirmed in other populations and extended in the future to include dementia outcomes."
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