By Madeline Vann, ABC News
FRIDAY, Dec. 28 (HealthDay News) — The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil might play an important role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease, according to a research team at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
Publishing in the Dec. 26 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, the scientists demonstrated that the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) increases the production of LR11, a protein that is found at reduced levels in Alzheimer’s patients. LR11 is known to destroy the protein that forms the plaques associated with the disease, the researchers explained.
The plaques are actually a buildup of a protein called beta amyloid, which is thought to be toxic to brain cells. Higher levels of LR11 prevent the manufacturing of the toxic proteins, which is why researchers believe the low levels found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients may be a contributing factor to the disease.
Alzheimer’s is a debilitating neurodegenerative disease that causes memory loss, dementia, personality change and ultimately death. The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5.1 million Americans are currently afflicted with the disease. The association predicts that may increase to between 11 million and 16 million people by 2050.
The researchers tested the effects of DHA by adding it directly to human and animal neurons grown in the laboratory.
“We found that even low doses of DHA increased the levels of LR11 in rat neurons, while dietary DHA increased LR11 in brains of rats or older mice that had been genetically altered to develop Alzheimer’s disease,” lead researcher Greg Cole, associate director of UCLA’s Alzheimer Disease Research Center, said in a prepared statement.
Fatty acids such as DHA are considered essential fatty acids, because the body cannot make them from other sources and must obtain them through diet. Years of research have shown that DHA is the most abundant essential fatty acid in the brain, Cole said, and that it is critical to fetal and infant brain development. Studies have also linked low levels of DHA in the brain to cognitive impairment and have shown that lower levels may increase oxidative stress in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients.
The research team acknowledged that their work does not identify a dosage of DHA that people could take to prevent Alzheimer’s, but they recommend eating more fatty fish or taking a supplement. They did not recommend taking DHA to try to slow the progression of Alzheimer’s.