Alzheimer’s disease is one form of dementia that gradually worsens over time, affecting memory, thinking, and behavior. The thing about Alzheimer’s that is so difficult is that by the time you experience symptoms, the disease has been developing for decades. So researchers are avidly trying to determine the causes and risk factors, and how to detect the disease earlier.

One thing they know is that Alzheimer’s is associated with the development of a protein called beta amyloid in the brain. They don’t quite know whether beta amyloid causes Alzheimer’s or whether it is a result of the disease process. Unfortunately, however, it is very difficult to measure brain levels of amyloid beta, as you could imagine. It can be measured in spinal fluid (a bit easier than measuring it in the brain), and even in blood.

Although there is debate about whether blood levels of beta amyloid reflect brain levels, the lead author of a recent study published in the journal Neurology, Nikolaos Scarmeas, stated, “It is relatively easy to measure the levels of beta amyloid in the blood, which, to a certain degree, relates to the level in the brain.” The study found that the more omega-3 fatty acids a person consumed, the lower their level of blood beta amyloid. Those who consumed one gram of omega-3 per day had 20 to 30 percent lower levels of beta amyloid in the blood than those who consumed the least omega-3.

The results of this study are promising, but further studies will have to relate omega-3 intake to spinal fluid or brain levels of beta amyloid. In the meantime, optimize your omega-3 levels with a fish oil supplement, and take the advice from another recent study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry: find a purpose in life. This study found that people who reported greater purpose in life had better brain function and lower levels of beta amyloid and tau tangles in the brain (they did measure brain levels in these studies after the patients had passed).

The lead researcher, Patricia Boyle, stated, “These findings suggest that purpose in life protects against the harmful effects of plaques and tangles on memory and other thinking abilities. This is encouraging and suggests that engaging in meaningful and purposeful activities promotes cognitive health in old age.”