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Omega-3 Fish Oil Aided Alzheimer’s Patients
Clinical trial showed help from omega-3s, and more with omega-3s plus alpha lipoic acid (ALA)
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Alzheimer’s disease afflicts an estimated five million Americans.
The disease, which has no cure, occurs mostly among people aged 65 or older, and eventually disables and kills patients.
Scientists' search for drugs that can substantially delay or ameliorate the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease – or address its as yet unknown root cause(s) – has so far proven nearly fruitless.
The available Alzheimer’s drugs – such as Aricept and Tacrine – block the breakdown of a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine.
Some natural compounds exert similar effects … including caffeine, Huperzine A (from moss), THC (from cannabis), and galantamine (from the Caucasian snowdrop plant).
Low brain levels of acetylcholine are linked to the memory loss associated with Alzheimer's disease.
Sadly, drugs and supplements that help preserve normal brain levels of acetylcholine don’t slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease very substantially.
But clinical trials suggest that acetylcholine-boosting agents can modestly delay the decline in Alzheimer's patients’ thinking, memory, or behavior.
Now, a randomized placebo-controlled pilot trial suggests that omega-3 fatty acids from fish may help delay Alzheimer’s patients’ mental decline.
Omega-3s vs. Alzheimer’s disease
Evidence that omega-3s from fish support brain health in middle-aged and older adults – even in younger people – keeps growing.
You’ll find many article reporting research in this realm in the Omega-3s & Brain Health section of our news archive.
The record of research on fish and omega-3s as aids to delaying or ameliorating Alzheimer’s symptoms is mixed but mostly encouraging.
For example, see these reports, also found in the Omega-3s & Brain Health section of our news archive:
And the small study found that the combination of omega-3 fish oil and alpha lipoic acid (ALA) – one of the body’s key internal antioxidants – worked even better.
Oregon trial sees help from fish oil and the body’s own antioxidant
Alzheimer's disease is associated with abnormally high levels of oxidative stress, inflammation, and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
Observational studies suggest that eating more fish higher than the average American – hence more omega-3 fatty acids than average – may help delay the mental declines seen in Alzheimer’s disease.
The new 12-month clinical trial involved 34 Alzheimer’s patients, and is considered a “pilot” or preliminary trial, designed to see whether larger, longer (hence more reliable) trials are warranted (Shinto L et al. 2014).
A team of researchers from Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) conducted the trial, which had two goals:
  • Test the effect of these supplements – alone and in combination – on Alzheimer's patients’ physical and mental performance.
  • Evaluate the effects of omega-3 fish oil – or a combination of omega-3s and ALA – on oxidative stress by measuring a “biomarker” called F2-isoprostane.
The volunteers’ mental status was assessed by administering three standard tests:
  • Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE)
  • Alzheimer Disease Assessment Scale-cognitive subscale (ADAS-cog)
  • Activities of Daily Living/Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (ADL/IADL)
The 34 participants were randomized into three groups:
  • Placebo capsules
  • Omega-3 fish oil capsules
  • Omega-3 fish oil plus alpha lipoic acid (ALA)
Mixed but encouraging results
After 12 months, re-testing of the participants revealed modest benefits from omega-3s alone, and from omega-3s plus ALA.
Levels of the oxidative stress marker F2-isoprostane were similar in all groups.
Omega 3s alone and omega-3s plus alpha lipoic acid made no significant difference in tow of the mental tests (ADAS-cog and ADL), compared with the placebo pills.
However, the patients who took both omega-3s and ALA showed less cognitive and functional decline over the 12 month trial.
Those taking only omega-3 fish oil showed less of a decline in their IADL test scores.
The Alzheimer's patients who took omega-3 fish oil plus ALA exhibited smaller declines in their scores on the MMSE and IADL tests.
In addition to omega 3 fatty acids and alpha lipoic acid, various foods, diets, and supplements show evidence that they may help deter, delay, or ameliorate Alzheimer’s disease.
These promising aids include curcumin, vitamin D, Mediterranean diets, low-carb diets, physical activity, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and food-source polyphenol antioxidants, which abound in berries, grapes, red wine, un-Dutched cocoa, tea, onions, garlic, and most colorful fruits and veggies.
  • Conquer JA, Tierney MC, Zecevic J, Bettger WJ, Fisher RH. Fatty acid analysis of blood plasma of patients with Alzheimer's disease, other types of dementia, and cognitive impairment. Lipids. 2000 Dec;35(12):1305-12. J Alzheimers Dis. 2008 Feb;13(1):31-8.
  • Quinn JF, Raman R, Thomas RG, Yurko-Mauro K, Nelson EB, Van Dyck C, Galvin JE, Emond J, Jack CR, Jr., Weiner M, Shinto L, Aisen PS. Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation and cognitive decline in Alzheimer disease: a randomized trial. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 304:1903-1911, 2010. PMC3259852
  • Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). Neurologists Studying Fish Oil as Alzheimer's Therapy. June 2, 2004. Accessed at
  • Shinto L, Quinn J, Montine T, Dodge HH, Woodward W, Baldauf-Wagner S, Waichunas D, Bumgarner L, Bourdette D, Silbert L, Kaye J. A randomized placebo-controlled pilot trial of omega-3 Fatty acids and alpha lipoic Acid in Alzheimer's disease. J Alzheimers Dis. 2014 Jan 1;38(1):111-20. doi: 10.3233/JAD-130722.
  • Tully AM, Roche HM, Doyle R, Fallon C, Bruce I, Lawlor B, Coakley D, Gibney MJ. Low serum cholesteryl ester-docosahexaenoic acid levels in Alzheimer's disease: a case-control study. Br J Nutr. 2003 Apr;89(4):483-9.
  • Wang W, Shinto L, Connor WE, Quinn JF. Nutritional biomarkers in Alzheimer's disease: the association between carotenoids, n-3 fatty acids, and dementia severity.
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