News

Adequate intakes of omega-3 fatty acids may maintain brain volume and cognition

August 1, 2014

A new US study reports that the regular intake of fish oil supplements may produce beneficial structural changes in the brain, countering age-related brain shrinkage.

The observational study compared cognitive functioning and brain size reduction (atrophy) among a total of 819 participants – including cognitively normal individuals, patients with mild cognitive impairment and patients with Alzheimer’s disease – of which some reported routinely using fish oil supplements while others did not supplement (1). The study results indicated that, compared to non-users, use of fish oil supplements was associated with better cognitive functioning in participants who had a normal cognitive function at the beginning of the study and in those who were not carrying a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease (APOE4). In addition, supplement users who were APOE4 negative showed less brain volume shrinkage, especially in two critical areas utilized in memory and thinking (cerebral cortex and hippocampus).

The researchers commented that these findings suggest a potential role for fish oil supplements by reducing neurodegeneration over time. The neuroprotective activities of omega-3 fatty acids may be largely mediated through vascular effects; however, other mechanisms have been proposed, including the activities of a potent lipid mediator (neuroprotectin D1) synthesized from docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) during periods of oxidative stress. The results highlight the need for future research on the effects of long-term fish oil supple-ment use on cognitive aging and dementia prevention in middle-aged and older adults.

References

  1. Daiello L. A. et al. Association of fish oil supplement use with preservation of brain volume and cognitive function. Alzheimer’s & Dementia. Published online July 2014.