Fish oil and Alzheimer's DiseaseA study published earlier this month consisting of older adults at risk of late-onset Alzheimer’s disease found that omega-3 fatty acids show potential in preventing dysfunction of the aging brain. The individuals who consumed more omega-3 fatty acids did better than their peers on tests of cognitive flexibility and had a bigger anterior cingulate cortex. Cognitive flexibility is the ability to efficiently switch between tasks. The gray matter in anterior cingulate cortex is the region of the brain that is known to contribute to cognitive flexibility. Higher gray matter volumes in the anterior cingulate cortex have been linked to higher omega-3 fatty acid intake as well as superior cognitive flexibility.

The prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease is expected to increase in the US from 5.1 to 13.2 million people by 2050 with health care costs exceeding 1 trillion dollars. Therefore, a preventive strategy to promote and support healthy brain aging is critical.

There is a significant amount of medical research that demonstrates the beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cognitive aging. These long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids serve as structural components of neuronal membranes and may have neuroprotective properties through anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and energy metabolism pathways.

Research shows there is a critical link between fatty acid deficiencies and the incidence of both cognitive impairment and degenerative neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Many individuals are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids and need to use a supplement since most do not consume enough in their diet. There is significant evidence that optimal nutrition preserves cognitive function, slows the aging process and reduces the incidence of chronic diseases.

This study focused on 40 cognitively healthy older adults ranging from 65 to 75 years of age who are carriers of a gene variant (APOE e4) that is known to contribute to the risk of developing late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.
The researchers assessed the participants’ cognitive flexibility, measured levels of the fatty acids EPA and DHA in their blood, and imaged their brains using MRI.

The team confirmed that higher omega-3 fatty acids was associated with better cognitive flexibility. In addition, they confirmed that higher omega-3 fatty acids was related to a higher volume in the anterior cingulate cortex.

Source: Aron Barbey et al. Anterior cingulate cortex mediates the relationship between O3PUFAs and executive functions in APOE e4 carriers. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, May 2015 DOI:10.3389/fnagi.2015.00087

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