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Fish Oil May Keep Alzheimer's at Bay

by Andre Picard, The (Toronto) Globe
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - September 4, 2004

Mice fed diet high in omega-3s in study escaped brain disease

A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish such as salmon and sardines and in fish-oil capsules, can help keep Alzheimer's disease at bay, a new Canadian study suggests.

The research, which was done on mice, provides the strongest evidence so far that a deficiency in a specific dietary component can have a direct effect on a person's risk of developing the devastating neurological disease.

"What the public needs to take from this is that diet matters to your brain," said Fridiric Calon, a molecular endocrinology researcher at the Laval University Medical Center in Quebec City. "If you have a diet that is poor in omega-3s, that will accelerate the process of Alzheimer's, especially if you're genetically predisposed."

A number of studies have suggested that people who eat a diet rich in fish are less likely to develop Alzheimer's and heart disease. Although the mechanism was unclear, the hunch was that it was because of omega-3s.

Omega-3 fatty acids have become so popular with health-conscious consumers that food manufacturers are adding them to products such as eggs and milk.

The eggs are produced by feeding chickens a special diet of flaxseed, which is rich in omega-3. The milk is enriched with organic flaxseed oil.

The new Alzheimer's research, published in the medical journal Neuron, shows that one type of omega-3, called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), seems to keep synapses healthy. Synapses are the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning.

The findings were serendipitous. Researchers working with mice bred to develop an Alzheimer's-like disease noticed the animals were not developing neurological damage.

The researchers realized the diet the mice were being fed -- soy and fish -- was chock-full of omega-3s.

So the researchers started a new study, feeding one group of mice the soy and fish diet and a second group a diet of safflower oil devoid of omega-3 fatty acids. After five months, they dissected the rodents' brains.

Scientists found high amounts of synaptic damage in the brains of the Alzheimer's-diseased mice that ate the DHA-depleted diet. The mice fed a diet poor in omega-3s also did poorly in memory tests, further evidence of brain damage.

The American Heart Association suggests people get 900 milligrams daily of two key omega-3s, DHA and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), a level difficult to achieve without taking fish-oil supplements.

Andre Picard, The (Toronto) Globe
Fish Oil May Keep Alzheimer's at Bay
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 4, 2004

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