Can omega-3 help prevent Alzheimer's disease? Brain SPECT imaging shows possible link

May 19, 2017
An example of the Omega-3 Index, the method utilized in this study for measuring omega-3 fatty acid levels in red blood cell membranes in the study. Credit: William S. Harris, PHD

The incidence of Alzheimer's disease (AD) is expected to triple in the coming decades and no cure has been found. Recently, interest in dietary approaches for prevention of cognitive decline has increased. In particular, the omega-3 fatty acids have shown anti-amyloid, anti-tau and anti-inflammatory actions in the brains of animals. In a new article published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers have found that for patients with high omega-3 levels, blood flow in specific areas of the brain is increased.

"This study is a major advance in demonstrating the value of nutritional intervention for brain health by using the latest brain imaging," commented George Perry, PhD, Dean and Professor of Biology, The University of Texas at San Antonio, and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.

Single photon emission computed tomography, or SPECT, can measure perfusion in the brain. Images acquired from subjects performing various cognitive tasks will show higher blood flow in specific brain regions. When these images were compared to the Omega-3 Index, a measure of the blood concentration of two , eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), investigators found a statistically significant correlation between higher blood flow and higher Omega-3 Index. In addition, they evaluated the neuropsychological functions of the subjects and found that omega-3 levels also correlated with various psychological feelings using a standardized test battery (WebNeuro).

This study drew from a random sample of 166 participants from a psychiatric referral clinic for which Omega-3 Index results were available. The participants were categorized into two groups of higher EPA+DHA concentrations (>50th percentile) and lower concentrations (<50th percentile). Quantitative brain SPECT was conducted on 128 regions of their brains and each participant completed computerized testing of their neurocognitive status.

Results indicated statistically significant relationships between the Omega-3 index, regional perfusion on brain SPECT in areas involved with memory, and neurocognitive testing.

Overall, the study showed positive relationships between omega-3 EPA+DHA status, brain perfusion, and cognition. Lead author Daniel G. Amen, MD, of the Amen Clinics Inc., Costa Mesa, CA, adds, "This is very important research because it shows a correlation between lower omega-3 fatty acid levels and reduced brain blood flow to regions important for learning, memory, depression and dementia."

Co-author William S. Harris, PhD, University of South Dakota School of Medicine. Vermillion, SD, lends this perspective, "Although we have considerable evidence that omega-3 levels are associated with better cardiovascular health, the role of the 'fish oil' fatty acids in mental health and physiology is just beginning to be explored. This study opens the door to the possibility that relatively simple dietary changes could favorably impact cognitive function."

Explore further: Studies link healthy brain aging to omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the blood

More information: Journal of Alzheimer's Disease (2017). DOI: 10.3233/JAD-17028

Related Stories

Studies link healthy brain aging to omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the blood

May 18, 2017
Two new studies link patterns of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the blood to the integrity of brain structures and cognitive abilities that are known to decline early in aging.

Omega-3 dietary supplements pass the blood-brain barrier

December 4, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—New research from Karolinska Institutet shows that omega-3 fatty acids in dietary supplements can cross the blood brain barrier in people with Alzheimer's disease, affecting known markers for both the disease ...

Diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids may help lower blood pressure in young, healthy adults

November 14, 2016
Healthy young people may be able to help prevent the onset of high blood pressure by eating diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, according to a preliminary study presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions ...

Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids may cause memory problems

February 27, 2012
A diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients commonly found in fish, may cause your brain to age faster and lose some of its memory and thinking abilities, according to a study published in the February 28, 2012, print ...

Additional benefit of omega-3 fatty acids for the clearance of metabolites from the brain

October 26, 2016
New research published online in The FASEB Journal suggests that omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are found in fish oil, could improve the function of the glymphatic system, which facilitates the clearance of waste ...

As kids' weight climbs, power of healthy fat supplements drops

April 5, 2017
Body weight plays a significant role in how much benefit children may get from consuming "good" fats, new research suggests.

Recommended for you

Study shows video games could cut dementia risk in seniors

November 16, 2017
Could playing video games help keep the brain agile as we age?

New player in Alzheimer's disease pathogenesis identified

November 14, 2017
Scientists at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have shown that a protein called membralin is critical for keeping Alzheimer's disease pathology in check. The study, published in Nature Communications, ...

Biomarker may predict early Alzheimer's disease

November 10, 2017
Researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have identified a peptide that could lead to the early detection of Alzheimer's disease (AD). The discovery, published in Nature Communications, may ...

Smell test challenge suggests clinical benefit for some before development of Alzheimer's

November 10, 2017
Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC) and the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI) may have discovered a way to use a patient's sense of smell to treat Alzheimer's disease before it ever develops. ...

How SORLA protects against Alzheimer's disease

November 7, 2017
Researchers at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP) have identified a new protective function for a brain protein genetically linked to Alzheimer's. The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental ...

Saving neurons may offer new approach for treating Alzheimer's disease

November 6, 2017
Treatment with a neuroprotective compound that saves brain cells from dying also prevents the development of depression-like behavior and the later onset of memory and learning problems in a rat model of Alzheimer's disease. ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.