Omega 3 Fatty Acids Could Delay Aging and Dementia

Fish oil may lead to better brain preservation and the possible delay of dementia, according to a study released by Neurology. The study, which examined brain volumes in 1,111 postmenopausal women, revealed that lower omega-3 indexes could actually signal a heightened risk of hippocampal atrophy, an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

Results also demonstrated that participants with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acid in their blood cells had larger total brain volume (0.7 percent) and even larger hippocampus portions of their brains (2.7 percent). The difference could translate to an additional one or two years of better brain functioning.

James V. Pottala, PhD, the study’s lead author, noted that people can obtain these benefits by consuming fish or fish oil supplements, reported USA Today. However, individuals would need to either: (1) eat oily fish five or more times a week; or (2) eat fish two or more times a week and take daily fish oil supplements. Salmon, herring, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and swordfish are all recognized for their high omega-3 fatty acid content.

Although there have been conflicting studies, Pottala’s research suggests “there is a positive relationship between omega-3 fatty acid-rich diets and the preservation of brain volume in aging,” Mayo Clinic Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center Director Ronald Petersen told USA Today. “The take-home message is to eat a heart-healthy diet that includes fish. I’d also recommend physical exercise and engagement in intellectual activity,” Petersen suggests.

Limitations of the Study

John Gever, Deputy Managing Editor of MedPage Today, reported that Pottala’s results are not conclusive, as the study is considerably limited. According to Gever, the study only measured omega-3 levels in participants’ red blood cells once, and took a single scan of their brains eight years later. “So Pottala and colleagues had no data on brain or hippocampal atrophy over time,” said Gever. As such, he argues that the study fails to consider alternative explanations for the correlation between omega-3 fatty acid and larger brains.

Alzheimer’s Association Director of medical and scientific relations Heather Snyder stated, “The strongest evidence we see in the research is the benefit of physical activity for potentially reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s disease,” reported USA Today.