Scientists from Harvard found that two omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil may help improve brain function in older adults who have a type of heart disease known to put people at risk for cognitive decline.
They found that DHA and EPA, given in a combined supplement at prescription levels, improved cognitive function in older adults with coronary artery disease, or CAD.
The research was presented at the American Heart Association’s virtual Scientific Sessions and was conducted by Dr. Francine Welty et al.
It is a common type of heart disease that occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries and hinders proper blood flow. Studies have shown people with CAD have a 45% increased risk for cognitive decline.
In the study, the team tested 291 adults with stable CAD. They averaged 63 years old, and 83% were men. None showed problems with cognition at the beginning of the study.
Half were given 3.36 grams of EPA and DHA combined, and half were not. All participants received cognitive function tests before the study, one year after treatment began and at the end of 30 months.
The researchers found the largest improvements in brain function were seen when higher levels of both types of omega-3 fatty acids were present in the bloodstream.
They found DHA levels were a better predictor of cognitive improvement than EPA, suggesting the presence of one type of omega-3 fatty acid was more important than the other.
The findings showed EPA adds additional benefits when DHA levels are already high. But EPA levels alone had no predictive ability for cognitive improvement.
Omega-3 fatty acids are highest in fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring, lake trout and albacore tuna.
The AHA recommends eating two servings of fish per week to help reduce heart disease and stroke risk.
It issued a science advisory in 2019 saying prescription fish oil supplements were a safe and effective way to lower triglycerides. The same advisory warned consumers not to take unregulated supplements.
A separate AHA science advisory issued in 2017 said omega-3 fish oil supplements may slightly lower the risk of dying after heart failure or a recent heart attack, but they do not prevent heart disease. Kris-Etherton co-authored both advisories.
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