Credible evidence indicates that omega-3s from fish can help blunt and heal injuries to the brain.
This idea enjoys overwhelming support from lab and animal studies, though human evidence remains limited to case studies.
For example, see “Teen’s Brain Saved by Omega-3s?, “Fish Fat Curbed Rat's Brain Injuries”, “Curry Spice + Omega-3 Curbed Spine Injuries in Rats”, “Miner’s Miracle”, and related reports in the Omega-3s and Brain Health section of our news archive.
Cases of dementia, memory loss, suicide, and other brain related problems suffered by football players keep making headlines.
A study sponsored by the National Football League (NFL) found that retired players aged 30 to 49 were 20 times more likely to receive a dementia-related diagnosis, versus their non-NFL peers.
(Because all older people are more likely to have dementia, football players aged 50 or older were "only" five times more likely to receive a dementia-related diagnosis versus their equally aged but non-NFL peers.)
Recent high-profile exposes and tragedies have triggered alarm about the brain-risks of football … in players of all ages.
Seen against the background of positive, albeit inconclusive evidence, the positive results of a preliminary human study warrant urgent action.
The evidence clearly justifies immediate conduct of controlled clinical trials to confirm whether omega-3s from fish can help blunt and/or heal brain injuries … and pinpoint optimally effective doses, formulations, and timing.
Nutrition/activity program may reverse some brain damage
A team led by famed neuroscientist Daniel G. Amen, M.D., reports that a specific nutrition-exercise program improved brain function substantially in 30 former NFL players.
About Dr. Amen
Acclaimed neuroscientist Daniel Amen, M.D., has published dozens of peer-reviewed scientific papers, authored five brain-health bestsellers, and hosts popular PBS-TV brain-health specials.
His Amen Clinics help people achieve and maintain optimal brain health and function.
Our specially priced Brain Box – created with Dr. Amen – features some of our brainy foods and his engaging, brain-focused CDs and DVDs.
According to him, the findings hold significant implications for prevention and treatment of brain damage due to concussions and other traumas.
Earlier, Dr. Amen – who's an expert in SPECT brain imaging – published three peer-reviewed studies on his work with active and retired NFL players.
The study – titled “Reversing Brain Damage in Former NFL Players” – involved 30 retired players diagnosed with brain damage and cognitive impairment (Amen DG et al. 2011).
This was an “open-label” study that let the participants and researchers know what supplements each participant was taking, and there was no control group.
Hence, it’s considered a preliminary study, intended to indicate whether funding of definitive (randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled) trials is justifiable.
They used SPECT brain imaging and a standard neuro-psych test to measure key brain attributes in the former NFL players … memory, mood, language, attention, cognition (thinking), blood flow, and information processing.
The athletes followed a daily “brain-healthy protocol” designed by Dr. Amen, for two to 12 months (average of six months):
Limited alcohol use
No drug or cigarette use
Nutritional support, featuring a high daily dose of fish oil
Specifically, the former players took 5.6 grams of fish oil a day, providing 1160mg of omega-3 DHA and 1720mg of omega-3 EPA.
(A daily dose of 5.6 grams is unusually high, but not extreme. It approximates the 4 grams per day that the American Heart Association recommends to heart patients with high blood triglyceride levels.)
Why give brain-damaged former NFL players fish oil?
As the authors wrote, “omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has shown benefits with memory, mood and cognition.” (Amen DG et al. 2011)
Other constituents of the volunteers’ supplement regimen included a high-potency multivitamin and a group of brain-boosters shown to:
- Cut cortisol levels (phosphatidylserine)
- Enhance blood flow (ginkgo and vinpocetine)
- Raise acetylcholine levels (acetyl-l-carnitine and huperzine A)
- Raise antioxidant activity (alpha-lipoic acid and n-acetyl-cysteine)
After the end of their trial periods (which averaged six months), each player was tested again.
They showed significant average increases in cognitive scores, blood flow, and self-reported perceptions of mood, memory, and motivation.
By the end of their trial periods, many athletes had achieved 50 percent higher brain-health scores, compared with their scores before starting the Amen team’s program.
As Dr. Amen said, “I hope this message finds anyone who played contact sports ... [but] even if you have been bad to your brain … you can often reverse the damage and improve your life.” (GNW 2013)
- Amen DG et al. Reversing Brain Damage in Former NFL Players: Implications for Traumatic Brain Injury and Substance Abuse Rehabilitation. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs. April 8, 2011. Volume 43, Issue 1, 2011. DOI:10.1080/02791072.2011.566489 Accessed at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02791072.2011.566489
- Amen DG, Hanks C, Prunella JR, Green A. An analysis of regional cerebral blood flow in impulsive murderers using single photon emission computed tomography. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2007 Summer;19(3):304-9.
- Amen DG, Newberg A, Thatcher R, Jin Y, Wu J, Keator D, Willeumier K. Impact of playing American professional football on long-term brain function. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2011 Winter;23(1):98-106. doi: 10.1176/appi.neuropsych.23.1.98.
- Amen DG. High resolution brain SPECT imaging in a clinical substance abuse practice. J Psychoactive Drugs. 2010 Jun;42(2):153-60.
- GlobeNewswire (GNW). Study Shows Reversing Brain Damage Among NFL Players is Possible With a Targeted Brain-Healthy Protocol. Feb. 1, 2013. Accessed at http://globenewswire.com/news-release/2013/02/01/520392/10020335/en/Study-Shows-Reversing-Brain-Damage-Among-NFL-Players-is-Possible-With-a-Targeted-Brain-Healthy-Protocol.html
- Lansing K, Amen DG, Hanks C, Rudy L. High-resolution brain SPECT imaging and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing in police officers with PTSD. J Neuropsychiatry Clin Neurosci. 2005 Fall;17(4):526-32.
- Willeumier K, Taylor DV, Amen DG. Elevated body mass in National Football League players linked to cognitive impairment and decreased prefrontal cortex and temporal pole activity. Transl Psychiatry. 2012 Jan 17;2:e68. doi: 10.1038/tp.2011.67.
- Willeumier KC, Taylor DV, Amen DG. Elevated BMI is associated with decreased blood flow in the prefrontal cortex using SPECT imaging in healthy adults. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 May;19(5):1095-7. doi: 10.1038/oby.2011.16. Epub 2011 Feb 10.