New NIH-funded research by Dr. James Pottala and Dr. William Harris, the founder and president/CEO of OmegaQuant and senior scientist at Health Diagnostics Laboratory Inc., demonstrates a link between red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and brain volume in post-menopausal women. Women who had an Omega-3 Index of 7.8% (highest quartile) had brain volumes that were 0.67% larger compared to those whose Index was 3.4% (lowest quartile). In the hippocampus (the memory center of the brain) the difference was 2.7%! This difference in brain volume is equivalent to preserving 1-2 years of brain health. For the original article, please click here.
Here are the basics of the study:
- – 1,100 post-menopausal women were included in the study. The study was conducted in a subgroup of women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study (WHI-MS). The purpose of WHI was to determine the effects of hormone replacement therapy on heart disease and breast cancer in post-menopausal women aged 65-80 (at recruitment).
- – Omega-3 Index was measured in blood taken 8 years before the MRI scans. The blood levels of omega-3s predicted brain volume 8 years later. Omega-3 levels in red blood cells are more indicative of long-term omega-3 intake compared to plasma levels, so as long as the women in the study did not intentionally increase their intake (supplements or fish) then the blood levels would be expected to remain very stable. Conservatively, we can estimate that 10% of women may have decided to begin taking supplements during the 8 years of follow-up. This potential change in intake, however, would cause the reported effects to be underestimated.
- – Red blood cell EPA+DHA were related to greater brain volume, but DHA appears to be driving the relationship. DHA levels were marginally correlated with brain volume (P=0.63) and EPA had a weaker relationship (P=0.11).
- – A higher omega-3 index was related to higher volume of grey matter in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain that is responsible for memory. The graph below shows the linear relationship between the Omega-3 Index and hippocampus tissue. The range in omega-3 levels for this analysis is smaller (5.7-6.0%) than the quartile analyses (3.4-7.8%) but the same pattern prevails.
This study adds to the growing body of literature that suggests that higher omega-3 levels are good for brain health. To read more, please click here.