Omega-3 Supplements Reach the Brain in People with Alzheimer’s

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Omega-3 fatty acid supplements have been found to increase the amount of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in spinal fluid from the central nervous system of people with Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting that these beneficial fatty acids cross the blood brain barrier, according to a new study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine. Previous studies have found that Alzheimer’s patients have lower brain concentrations of omega-3 DHA, an important fatty acid normally found in high concentrations in the brains of healthy people.

In the study, 33 patients received either an omega-3 supplement or placebo daily for six months. Those people taking the supplement had higher levels of both EPA and DHA in cerebrospinal fluid when compared to those taking placebo. Interestingly, DHA levels directly correlated with the changes in the disease and with inflammatory markers in the cerebrospinal fluid, which suggests that the disease state and inflammation status may be directly affected by DHA levels.

“In animals, DHA dietary supplements can lead to an increase in DHA concentrations in the central nervous system,” noted Jan Palmblad, MD, PhD. “Here we show that the same applies to humans, which suggests that omega-3 fatty acids in dietary supplements cross the blood-brain barrier. However, much work remains to be done before we know how these fatty acids can be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease to halt memory loss.”

The research behind omega-3 fatty acids—particularly DHA—for memory and Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment is constantly growing. Dr. Smith and I have blogged on many studies in this area. From birth through old age, omega-3s play a crucial role on our overall health. If you’re not supplementing with omega-3 fish oils, it’s not too late to start.