Long-term heavy use of alcohol can lead to brain damage and increased risks of dementia, so the search is on for treatments that offset this damage. In a recent study published in the Public Library of Sciences ONE journal, researchers tested the effects of fish oil on brain cells exposed to high levels of alcohol. The fish oil was found to protect against inflammation and neuron cell death.

Using an animal model, researchers exposed rat brain cells to concentrations of alcohol equivalent to about four times the legal limit for driving, a concentration seen in alcoholics. The alcohol-exposed cells were compared to those exposed to the same high levels of alcohol, in addition to the fish oil compound DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). They found a 90 percent reduction in inflammation and death of neurons (brain cells) in those cells exposed to alcohol plus DHA when compared to those exposed to alcohol alone.

Further studies are needed to confirm these results in humans, but the researchers are hopeful.

“Fish oil has the potential of helping preserve brain integrity in chronic alcohol abusers,” noted Michael Collins, PhD. “At the very least, it is unlikely that it would hurt them.”

Important to note, this study is not a green light to drink all you want and just take some fish oil. The best way to protect brain health is to not drink too much. But for those (hopefully infrequent) times when you do, be sure that you are taking fish oil on a regular basis. You may be able to offset some of the damage.