Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids might lower the risk of developing dementia, according to a study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. The study found omega-3s can improve cognitive function by increasing blood flow in areas of the brain commonly affected by dementia.
Understanding Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids, also called polyunsaturated fatty acids, are essential fatty acids that the body can’t make on its own. Previous research has linked them to improved brain health and reduced inflammation. They may also lower blood pressure and cholesterol, reduce the risk of inflammatory conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, and lower the risk of conditions such as diabetes, depression, and heart disease.
Humans can absorb omega-3 fatty acids through food. Most fish, some plants, some nut oils, and seafood such as krill and algae are rich in omega-3s.
Could Omega-3s Fight Dementia?
The study looked at 166 people referred from a psychiatric clinic. Researchers had access to records of participants’ levels of two omega-3 acids. They then divided participants into two groups: those with omega-3 concentrations above the 50th percentile, and those with omega-3 concentrations below the 50th percentile.
Investigators then compared the results of SPECT scans to omega-3 acid blood concentrations. They found a statistically significant correlation between increased omega-3 concentration and more blood flow in brain regions linked to memory, as well as brain regions that play a role in scores on neurocognitive tests.
This suggests omega-3s may improve cognitive functioning by improving blood flow. This could offer protection against dementia.
Previous studies of animals support this finding. Animal studies suggest omega-3s may have anti-amyloid, ant-tau, and anti-inflammatory properties. People with Alzheimer’s often show accumulations of amyloid and tau plaques in the brain. Inflammation is linked to an overall decline in brain functioning and may play a role in the development of brain plaques.
- Amen, D. G., Harris, W. S., Kidd, P. M., Meysami, S., & Raji, C. A. (2017). Quantitative erythrocyte Omega-3 EPA plus DHA levels are related to higher regional cerebral blood flow on brain SPECT. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 1-11. doi:10.3233/jad-170281
- Can Omega-3 help prevent Alzheimer’s disease? Brain SPECT imaging shows possible link. (2017, May 19). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170519124034.htm
- Omega-3 fatty acids. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids
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