Fish oil protects against Alzheimer’s disease

DHA and Alzheimer’s Disease

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS. High levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in the more active areas of the brain including the cerebral cortex, mitochondria, synaptosomes, and synaptic vesicles. At least one epidemiologic study has shown that patients with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) have significantly lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their plasma phospholipids than do age- matched controls. Researchers at the Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center now report that older people can reduce their risk of developing AD by increasing their intake of fish and fish oil (DHA). Their study included 815 men and women over the age of 65 years who had showed no sign of AD during a thorough baseline examination. About 2 years after the examination all participants completed a 154- item food frequency questionnaire and provided information about their current use of supplements. After another 2 years all participants were again subjected to a thorough, structured neurologic clinical evaluation to establish the presence or absence of AD. A total of 131 study participants were found to have developed AD over the 3.9-year follow-up period.

The researchers found that participants who consumed fish just once a week had a 60% lower risk of developing AD than did those who rarely or never ate fish. They also observed that participants whose daily intake of DHA was about 100 mg/day had an incidence of AD which was 70% lower than those with an intake of 30 mg/day or less.

Fish and Fish Oil Contain Omega-3 Fatty Acids, DHA, and EPA

Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), another component of fish oil supplements, showed no appreciable effect; however, the maximum intake was only 30 mg/day. A high total intake of omega-3 fatty acids was also strongly correlated with a reduced risk for AD. Participants with an intake of 1.6 – 4.1 grams/day had a 70% lower risk than those with an intake below 1.05 grams/day. Alpha-linolenic acid (flaxseed oil) intake was not associated with AD risk except in the case of people with the APOE-epsilon 4 allele where a high intake was strongly protective. The researchers conclude that an increased intake of fish or omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, can substantially reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Morris, MC, et al. Consumption of fish and n-3 fatty acids and risk of incident of Alzheimer’s disease. Archives of Neurology, Vol. 60, July 2003, pp. 940-46
Friedland, RP. Fish consumption and the risk of Alzheimer disease. Archives of Neurology, Vol. 60, July 2003, pp. 940-46

Editor’s comment: High doses of fish oils should always be accompanied by vitamins E and C in order to prevent oxidation of the oil.

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