Fish Oil May Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease, Study Suggests

Ana de Barros, PhD avatar

by Ana de Barros, PhD |

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A recent study titled, “ω-3 Supplementation increases amyloid-β phagocytosis and resolvin D1 in patients with minor cognitive impairment,” reported in this month’s issue of The FASEB Journal, is backing all the hype surrounding fish oil and antioxidant supplements as a potential means to battle Alzheimer’s disease. This small-scale study involved individuals with noted mild clinical impairment, and reports a reduction in amyloid-beta protein build up and brain inflammation. The study ran from 4 to 17 months, and highlights the need for more conclusive research to establish these supplements as a more economic and non-pharmaceutical alternative to keep dementia at bay.

Dr. Milan Fiala, a professor at the University of California Los Angeles’ Department of Surgery, said the prevention of mild cognitive impairment is one of the best approaches to prevent Alzheimer’s disease. “In addition to physical and mental exercises recommended by experts, this study suggests that nutrition is equally important.”

Dr. Fiala led a team of researchers that studied the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants in patients known to have this early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, along with 2 patients with pre-mild cognitive impairment, and 7 already diagnosed with the disease. The team took note of phagocytic activity in amyloid-beta 1-42 using flow cytometry and microscopy, inflammation-related genetic transcription using RT-PCR, secretion of resolvin D1 through enzyme immunoassay, and the patients’ cognitive status according to the Mini Mental State Examination (MMSE). While the supplements did not seem to cause any significant improvements in subjects with diagnosed Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers observed an increase in phagocytic activity in those with mild and pre-mild clinical impairment from 530 to 1306 mean fluorescence intensity units.

When it came to production of resolvin D1, an enzyme responsible for amyloid-beta phagocytosis, Dr. Fiala’s team noted a rise in macrophages in 80% of the subjects with mild and pre-mild clinical impairment. The transcription of inflammatory genes’ mRNAs also exhibited an increase in a number of subjects with lower baseline transcription.

“We’ve known for a long time that omega-3 fatty acids and some antioxidants can be beneficial to people with a wide range of health problems, as well as protective for healthy people,” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “Now, we know that the effects of these supplements may extend to Alzheimer’s disease as well. Although these supplements are considered to be generally safe and are very easy to obtain, full-scale clinical trials are necessary to verify the findings of this research and to identify who might benefit the most.”