UK researchers find fish oil speeds thinking, slows brain aging
by Craig Weatherby
Over the past year, we’ve reported accumulating evidence that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of age-related cognitive decline (ARCD). While not all studies examining the issue support a link between lower tissue levels of omega-3s and increased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, most have found that higher fish oil intake appears to be protective.
Now, Scottish researchers say they’ve found further evidence that fish oil protects the brain, and they think they’ve found one reason why.
Researchers at Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities contacted more than 300 Britons who had taken part in an IQ survey in 1947 when they were 11 years old, and tested them again in 2000-01, at the age of 64.
The participants reported on their diet—both foods and food supplements such as fish oil capsules—and tests were done to determine the amount of omega-3s in their red blood cells.
The results show that people who took fish oil supplements scored 13 percent higher on mental function, and that they did six percent better in tests looking for early signs of dementia.
The researchers believe that in part, fish oils slowed mental aging in supplement users by reducing inflammation in blood vessels that supply the brain.
Earlier research indicates that in addition to damping inflammation, omega-3s modulate the concentrations and actions of chemicals in the brain, including the key neurotransmitter, acetylcholine (Current anti-Alzheimer’s drugs work by raising brain levels of acetylcholine). Omega-3s also raise brain levels of anandamides: a class of chemicals active in governing coordination, memory, and emotions.
The biggest difference the Scots found was in the mental speed of people with higher blood levels of omega-3s. As lead researcher Lawrence Whalley, Ph.D., told one news outlet, “Virtually all the advantages we are seeing are in the efficiency of connections between the different parts of the brain.”
So if you find yourself losing your keys all too often, try eating fatty fish more frequently!
- Whalley LJ, Fox HC, Wahle KW, Starr JM, Deary IJ. Cognitive aging, childhood intelligence, and the use of food supplements: possible involvement of n-3 fatty acids. Am J Clin Nutr. 2004 Dec;80(6):1650-7.
- Das UN, Ramos EJ, Meguid MM. Metabolic alterations during inflammation and its modulation by central actions of omega-3 fatty acids. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2003 Jul;6(4):413-9. Review.
- 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.
- Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Tangney CC, Bennett DA, Wilson RS, Aggarwal N, Schneider J. Consumption of fish and n-3 fatty acids and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol. 2003 Jul;60(7):940-6.
- Laurin D, Verreault R, Lindsay J, Dewailly E, Holub BJ. Omega-3 fatty acids and risk of cognitive impairment and dementia. J Alzheimers Dis. 2003 Aug;5(4):315-22.