Omega-3s and Brain Health

A diet high on fried foods, fast foods, high carbs, etc. and low on fish, leafy greens, vegetables, fruits, and complex carbs rich in fiber can lead to an imbalance of fats in the body, making the body high in bad fats and low in the fats that help the body with healthy inflammation response, heart health and more. In these studies, omega-3 fats show promise in supporting brain health.

Omega-3s and air pollution

Earlier studies found omega-3s reduced brain damage due to lead and mercury, but there are no studies on omega-3s and air pollution. Fine particle matter, 2.5 microns in size—30 times smaller than the width of a hair—can directly enter the bloodstream through the respiratory tract, damaging body systems including the brain. Maintaining brain volume, or size, is essential for healthy cognition later in life.

In this study, doctors compared omega-3 index scores in 1,315 dementia-free women, average age 70, who had a brain structure MRI in the tenth year of the study. All the women lived in areas with high air pollution.

Compared to women with the lowest omega-3 index scores, women with the highest scores had a greater volume of white matter in the frontal, parietal, and temporal brain lobes. Volume in the hippocampus—the area of the brain involved in short- and long-term memory, and in spatial memory that enables navigation—was also larger for women with higher omega-3 index scores.

Reference: Neurology; August, 2020, Vol. 95, No. 8, WNL 10074

Omega-3, memory & hand-eye coordination

Plaques can build up on the walls of arteries that serve the heart, increasing chances for adverse heart events, but also increasing chances for cognitive decline. In this study, 250 cognitively healthy people with arterial plaque buildup, took a placebo or 3,360 mg of marine EPA and DHA per day.

After 30 months, while the placebo group did not improve, those taking omega-3s had improved hand-eye coordination and better verbal fluency. Both those with and without type 2 diabetes improved, but non-diabetics began improving at 12 months.

Doctors use the Omega-3 Index, which measures levels of circulating omega-3 fatty acids, to gauge chances for adverse heart events. The cognitive benefits in the study emerged as circulating levels of omega-3s reached four percent. Doctors said the study findings show that marine omega-3s can improve cognition even in those with normal cognitive function, before cognitive decline begins.

Reference: AHA Journals – Circulation; December, 2019, No. 140, Abstract 10723

Omega-3 and Alzheimer’s disease

People with a gene mutation known as APOE4 (E4) are four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Doctors thought those with E4 would need larger doses of the omega-3 DHA—one of the most prevalent fatty acids in the brain—to have adequate levels in their brain matter.

In this six-month study, 33 men and women, 15 with E4, at least age 55, with a family history of AD, but without the disease themselves, took a placebo or 2,152 mg of DHA per day, which included 0.1 percent EPA. Both groups restricted other polyunsaturated fatty acids, and took B complex vitamins including 1 mg of vitamin B12, 100 mg of B6, and 800 mcg of folic acid per day. B-vitamins help the body process omega-3s.

Discussing the findings, doctors said, “E4 carriers, despite having the same dose, had less omega-3s in the brain.” E4 carriers also had one-third the increase of EPA in spinal fluid compared to non-E4 participants.

Reference: The Lancet; 2020, PIIS2352-3964(20)30258-9

BetsyHealth Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Consult your healthcare provider before trying a supplement, especially if you have a medical condition, including being pregnant or nursing, take prescription or over-the-counter medications, or are planning on having surgery.

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