It’s no secret that omega-3s are good for the heart and also help in preventing cancer, but a new study recently confirmed that the fatty acids are also good for brain health, boosting blood flow in the brain and potentially protecting it from dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s. The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, found that patients with high levels of omega-3 displayed an increased blood flow in their brains, ScienceDaily.com reported.
The study made use of single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) to measure blood perfusion in the brain. Researchers drew a random sample of 166 participants, who were then categorized into two groups based on their EPA+DHA concentrations. Those with higher concentrations were put in one group, while those with lower concentrations were put in the other. The participants were then subjected to a quantitative brain SPECT, which was done on 128 regions of their brain. Each participant was also tested for their neurocognitive status.
The results showed that there was a significant correlation between omega-3 EPA+DHA status, brain perfusion, and cognition — particularly in areas of the brain that have to do with learning and memory. These are the areas that are affected by dementia, which causes loss of memory and cognitive abilities in patients.
“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,” the study’s lead author Daniel G. Amen said in the ScienceDaily.com article.
Meanwhile, co-author William S. Harris added: “Although we have considerable evidence that omega-3 levels are associated with better cardiovascular health, the role of ‘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.”
This discovery is certainly a breakthrough particularly for Alzheimer’s research. The chronic degenerative disease is the most common form of dementia. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, it affects more than five million Americans, with the number potentially rising to 16 million by 2050. It is also the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, killing more people than breast and prostate cancer combined.
A common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is difficulty remembering newly-acquired information. After the onset of the disease, it’s a downhill spiral for patients as symptoms gradually intensify. From disorientation, mood swings, behavior changes, and increasing confusion about their current situation, patients symptoms’ worsen to increasing severity, such as baseless suspicions and distrust of people around them, serious memory loss, more extreme changes in behavior, and difficulty speaking, swallowing, and walking.
The disease does not only affect the patients, but also their families and caregivers. Watching a loved one spiral into mental incapacity can take an emotional toll on even the most stoic people. At the same time, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, 15 million Americans care for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients without pay, providing 18.2 billion hours of care valued at $230 billion. 35 percent of these caregivers have compromised their own health to be able to care for Alzheimer’s patients.
At the moment, Alzheimer’s can not be cured, only treated to prolong the patient’s regression and improve their quality of life. As the health industry puts more and more effort into studying the mysterious yet all too common disease, studies such as the one mentioned above are a promising look into the future of Alzheimer’s patients.