Alzheimer’s dementia is the disease most Americans fear most – and for good reason. This relentlessly progressive brain condition robs a person of their retirement years and families of the people they love. No wonder there’s so much interest in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. One preventative treatment that holds promise for prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, are the omega-3 fatty acids in fatty fish.  Many Alzheimer’s researchers have long touted fish oil, by pill or diet, as an accessible and inexpensive “weapon” that may delay or prevent this debilitating disease. Now, UCLA scientists have confirmed that fish oil is indeed a deterrent against Alzheimer’s, and they have identified the reasons why.

Reporting in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, Greg Cole, professor of medicine and neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and associate director of UCLA’s Alzheimer Disease Research Center, and his colleagues report that the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) found in fish oil increases the production of LR11, a protein that is found at reduced levels in Alzheimer’s patients and which is known to destroy the protein that forms the “plaques” associated with the disease.

The plaques are deposits of a protein called beta amyloid that is thought to be toxic to neurons in the brain, leading to Alzheimer’s. Since having high levels of LR11 prevents the toxic plaques from being made, low levels in patients are believed to be a factor in causing the disease.

A growing number of studies are showing that fish oils may help treat mild Alzheimer’s disease and may even prevent Alzheimer’s from developing.   A study published in 2003 found reduced levels of DHA in the blood of people with Alzheimer’s disease.  In 1997, a prospective study of people age 55 and older in the Netherlands found the same thing: an inverse relationship between fish consumption and dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease.  The more fish people ate, the less the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease.

In 2002, a 7-year study of 1674 people over age 67 found that those who had the greatest fish consumption also had the lowest incidence of dementia.  The authors of this study commented:  “Elderly people who eat fish or seafood at least once a week are at lower risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.”  The authors concluded that fish is beneficial because its omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the brain and assist the regeneration of nerve cells.

 A 2006 study found that supplementation with fish oils could slow cognitive decline in people with mild Alzheimer’s disease.

All of these positive findings may be due to the ability of fish oils to reduce inflammation.  Experts believed that much of the degeneration of aging is due to chronic inflammation.  The anti-inflammatory effect of fish oils or other forms of omega-3 fatty acids has been proven in studies of people with inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

There are other reasons to get enough fish oils in your diet.  Studies have demonstrated convincingly that fish oils reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death, which kills 250,000 Americans a year, by 40%-80%. Fish oil and its key ingredient, omega-3 fatty acids have even been endorsed by the American Heart Association to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.  Additional benefits of fish oils include reduction of triglyceride levels, improved glucose metabolism, improved vascular flexibility, and reduced blood pressure.   For these reasons, experts recommend that people should eat fish at least once a week or take fish oil supplements daily.

REFERENCES

Barberger-Gateau, P, et al.  Fish, meat, and risk of dementia: cohort study.  British Medical Journal 2002;325:932-933.

Freund-Levi Y, Eriksdotter-Jonhagen M, et al.  O-3 fatty acid treatment in 174 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease.  Archives of Neurology 2006;63:1402-1408.

Friedland, RP. Fish consumption and the risk of Alzheimer disease. Archives of Neurology, Vol. 60, July 2003, pp. 940-46

Kalmijn, S, et al.  Dietary fat intake and the risk of incident dementia in the Rotterdam study.  Annals of Neurology 1997;42:776-82.

Medical News Today. “Diets High in Fish Oil Have a Beneficial Effect in Patients at Risk of Alzheimer’s”

Morris, MC, et al. Consumption of fish and n-3 fatty acids and risk of incident of Alzheimer’s disease. Archives of Neurology, Vol. 60, July 2003, pp. 940-46

Tully, AM, et al.  Low serum cholesteryl ester-docosahexaenoic acid levels in Alzheimer’s’s disease: a case-control study.  British Journal of Nutrition 2003;89:483-489.

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