Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fatty acids found in fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. These acids are known to play a significant role in maintaining the health of cell membranes, including those in the brain.
More precisely, several studies have linked high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids in the diet to slower rates of cognitive decline and better brain health in older adults.
The Link between Omega-3 Levels and Brain Health | A Recent Study
This blog highlights one such study recently published in the journal ‘Neurology’ by researchers from California, Massachusetts, South Dakota, and Texas.
Read on to know the details regarding this significant research on the link between Omega-3 levels and brain health.
Aim & Methodology
Although higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids like Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in the blood are already known to reduce the risk of dementia, the underlying reasons for this relation have been unclear. Therefore, the aim of this study was to uncover how exactly Omega-3s protect human brains.
The researchers looked at the brain imaging data of 2,183 subjects to understand the relationship between fatty acid levels in the red blood cells and cognitive markers of dementia risk, such as the presence of APOE-e4 genotype.
Results of the Study
The 2,183 subjects involved in the study were of an average age of 46 and were split evenly between men and women. The authors found that subjects with higher overall Omega-3 Index had larger hippo campuses and performed better on abstract reasoning tests.
To put it differently, the results of this study indicate an association of low red blood cell DHA levels with smaller brain volumes and a ‘vascular’ pattern of cognitive impairment, even in people who don’t have clinical dementia.
Although this study replicated the research of Framingham O spring conducted 10 years ago, the subjects of that research had an average age of 66. Comparatively, the current study represents Generation 3, with an average age of 46. This makes the authors speculate that previous studies may have begun the intervention too late in a subject’s life when negative changes in the brain structure, such as shrinking of brain tissue and changes in the organ’s vasculature, have already taken hold. Hence, they suggest that early intervention to maintain an optimal Omega-3 Index (8% or higher) could play an important role in delaying cognitive decline in the long term.
Epidemiological and intervention studies suggest omega-3 from marine sources may play a vital role in preserving brain health from early midlife - just before the onset of moderate cognitive changes.
People who include omega-rich food and supplements in their diet early on may benefit from reduced risk of detrimental changes in brain health in the later stages of their lives.
It should be noted that some plant sources like flaxseeds and chia seeds also contain omega-3 acids, but these plant-based fatty acids are only precursors to DHA and EPA. They require conversion in the body before they can turn into the bioactive forms of omega-3.
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