Stick With Fish And Veggies: Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Protect Against Alzheimer's
Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia among people over the age of 65. It is also a very expensive disease - alone, Alzheimer's cost $116 billion in 2011, the cost of dementia and Alzheimer's drugs worldwide, or $515,000 per person, per year.
A new study, involving multiple rats, suggests that a fatty acid known as Omega-3 can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's. A new study, involving multiple rats, suggests that a fatty acid known as Omega-3 can help prevent the onset of Alzheimer's.
According to the National Institute on Aging, Alzheimer's disease accounts for about 5.4 million Americans and about 5 million Americans over the age of 65 years.
The cognitive loss that accompanies the disease is often devastating. This is the case, in part, because of the brain injury caused by a variety of diseases. Alzheimer's is primarily caused by amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain - these occur when protein misfoldings of tau proteins disrupt the transport of nutrients into the brain.
The causes of Alzheimer's disease are currently unknown, but as we age, levels of neurotoxins increase - this is why we need so much sleep, and how we stretch our arms and legs.
Omega-3 - also called choline - plays a crucial role in brain health. Omega-3 contains the essential fatty acid hydroxylceramide, which helps in the normal functioning of the central nervous system.
A team of investigators from University of California-Berkeley carried out a study - published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research - to test whether Omega-3 might help to prevent Alzheimer's.
Five experimental strains of rats foraging at a time came from three different cultures: "industrial diet," "pomegranate", and "naturally enriched source fish."
Omega-3 may enhance learning and memory
The researchers studied the effects of each fatty acid presented in the fish. For example, they looked at levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the essential fatty acids found in fish such as salmon, trout, and herring.
The researchers also measured levels of additional omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA), and isobutanol. All of these omega-3 fatty acids were substituted for vegetable oils in the animals' diets.
These populations of rats showed signs of cognitive impairment. Furthermore, changes in cerebral cortex size in this group of rats could be later seen in humans with Alzheimer's disease.
Additionally, the researchers administered low doses of vitamin C to the rats that did not have an equivalent in these dietary sources.
According to the study, low doses of omega-3 fatty acids may protect against cognitive impairment - and prevent its onset. The animals that were in the lower vegetarian diet group had the highest blood levels of both omega-3 fatty acids and DHA.
The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and marine fish are highly controversial, in that some studies have shown negligible protection from Alzheimer's. In addition, animals and humans are genetically predisposed to get high levels of these fatty acids.
The researchers note, however, that they found the blood levels of the three omega-3 fatty acids were correlated with the mice's cognitive function. The link is the result of a regular diet of omega-3 fatty acids and a diet in which food enters the brain slowly, just as at the source.
The rat population was then divided into two groups: one whose diets mimicked the vegetable oil-based diet, and the other where the rodents consumed animal products such as fish.
As the rodents in the first group showed signs of higher cognitive function than those in the second group, the rodents whose diets mimicked fish became the latter group.
"This study shows there are critical points in the human body at which some components of the diet can be protective of cognitive function. This study provides strong evidence that the marine diet provides those important nutrients." The authors of the study.
This study is a "proof of principle." The team now plans to test the effects of the diet on humans.