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BY Anne-Marie Chalmers, MD Jul 14, 2009

The Good and Bad News about Fish Oil and Alzheimer’s

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This past Sunday, scientists announced the results of two research studies regarding omega-3, cognitive health, and aging. In both studies, DHA was the omega-3 of choice, because it plays a crucial role in brain function.

I’ll start with the bad news: an 18-month study indicates that for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, with mild or moderate symptoms, it’s already too late for omega-3 to slow the decline of cognitive ability. This is in agreement with a previous study from Sweden demonstrating that while fish oil may be beneficial for people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, that effect disappears later on.

Some maybe-good news: Participants in the same trial who didn’t have the e4 version of the APOE gene – which increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s – did show slight improvement. For the 20 to 30 percent of people with Alzheimer’s disease who lack this key gene, this is a topic to continue to watch as more research emerges.

The real good news: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, and multi-center study (in other words, producing data with virtually ironclad accuracy) had much more encouraging results. After six months of treatment of 485 healthy older people who reported slight memory decline, the patients who took DHA supplements experienced a significant improvement in scores on a basic memory test. Karin Yurko-Mauro, PhD, the scientist who led the study, said, “The benefit is roughly equivalent to having the learning and memory skills of someone three years younger.” It was probably tricky to find your car keys three years ago, too, but hey – that’s a start. While the chief medical and scientific officer of the Alzheimer’s Association, William Thies, PhD, said the association was not yet prepared to recommend DHA supplements; it’s worth noting that early Alzheimer’s detection is tricky, so it’s at least a good precaution. Plus, a recent five-country study showed that high fish consumption reduces the risk of dementia by 20%. Fish oil is low-risk, too: neither of the new studies reported any serious adverse effects of treatment. The second study even found that the DHA patients experienced a reduction in heart rate, which is rarely a bad thing.

There’s still one important caveat to discuss. In the second study, with the positive results, participants were receiving 900 mg of DHA daily. That’s the equivalent of five Nature Made fish oil capsules, which may not even be fully potent, seeing as the oil is old. (That’s why it’s enclosed in capsules. If you don’t believe me, slice one open and take a good whiff.) Plus those capsules have a good chance of “repeating” on you (to put it diplomatically) later in the day. So stick to Omega Cure – two teaspoons contain 1,005 mg of DHA, plus an equal amount of EPA, which can help out elsewhere in your body, especially with inflammation (arthritis relief, anyone?). Omega Cure just might be the freshest, tastiest fish oil out there, so it will go down easy, making both your brain and your taste buds happy.

Sources:

1. HealthDay News: Omega-3 Fatty Acid Falls Short in Alzheimer’s Trial.

2. Science Daily: Mixed Results from Trials of DHA is Alzheimer’s Disease and Age-Related Cognitive Decline.

3. MedPage Today: Fish Oil Fails to Slow Alzheimer’s Decline.

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