A new study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids — such as salmon, sardines and mackerel — may help keep Alzheimer’s disease at bay by promoting blood flow in brain regions that regulate memory and learning. As part of the study, a team of researchers examined brain scans from 166 people from a psychiatric referral clinic. The participants were divided into two groups based on their omega-3 intake. The scans were designed to assess brain activity by measuring blood flow. The research team scanned up to 128 brain regions while the participants underwent various computer tasks that assessed their mental skills. The experts also examined the participants’ omega-3 blood levels, and used standard tests to evaluate groups’ mental and emotional health.
The study revealed that participants with high omega-3 intake had more blood flowing into brain regions responsible for memory and learning. The research team also found that the same participants fared better at acquiring and understanding information. Participants who had high omega-3 consumption also exhibited better overall mental and emotional health, the health experts added.
“Although we have considerable evidence omega-3 levels are associated with better cardiovascular health, the role of the “fish oil” fatty acids in mental health and brain 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,” study co-author Professor William Harris said in ScienceDaily.com.
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Despite the seemingly positive results, outside experts have warned that the study failed to evaluate how omega-3 fatty acids specifically fend off neurological conditions like dementia.
“Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in maintaining a healthy brain. This study points to a link between higher levels of omega-3 and certain indicators of brain health, but did not look at any potential long-term benefits against conditions like dementia. While some previous studies have drawn a link between diets high in omega-3 and a lower risk of dementia, it is unclear how much this effect might be down to other aspects of a healthy diet…While research continues to unpick factors that can affect dementia risk, the best current evidence suggests that adopting a healthy diet while not smoking, staying mentally and physically active, only drinking in moderation and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol in check, can all play a role in maintain a health brain as we age,” Dr Rosa Sancho, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said in DailyMail.co.uk.
Studies tout omega-3’s potential in Alzheimer’s disease prevention
The recent findings support previous studies demonstrating the beneficial effects of omega-3 intake. A 2013 study published in the same journal revealed that a combination of vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids helped boost the immune system’s ability to eliminate amyloid plaque deposits in the brain. To carry out the study, the research team examined blood samples from both Alzheimer’s disease patients and otherwise healthy controls.
The study revealed that both compounds helped enhance the ability of Alzheimer’s disease patients’ macrophages to eliminate amyloid plaque deposits. The research team also found that both compounds prevented cell death, which triggers the build up of amyloid plaque in the brain.
Another study published in The FASEB Journal showed that omega-3 and antioxidant supplementation increased the phagocytic activity in patients with mild and pre-mild cognitive impairment. According to the researchers, the intervention resulted in a significant increase in macrophages in 80 percent of the said patients. However, the intervention did not appear to produce significant results in patients that were already diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the research team noted.