Scientists from Harvard Medical School 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 is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition and was conducted by Dr. Francine Welty et al.
CAD 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 examined 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.
All participants received cognitive function tests at baseline, one year after treatment began, and at the end of 30 months.
The team 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.
When analyzed individually, DHA levels were a better predictor for cognitive improvement than EPA, suggesting the presence of one type of omega-3 fatty acid was more important than the other.
The study showed EPA adds additional benefits when DHA levels are already high.
The team hoped to show long-term, high-dose omega-3 fatty acids could prevent cognitive decline in people with CAD but was surprised to find the supplements did much more than that.
In further3 analysis, the team looked at changes in the levels of EPA and DHA in the blood of participants who took the supplements, to see if higher levels of each of the fatty acids predicted the cognitive improvements.
While higher DHA aligned with better performance on cognitive tests, higher EPA levels did not seem to make a difference – except in people who had high levels of DHA, to begin with.
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.
If you care about heart disease, please read studies about a big cause of congenital heart disease, and heart disease can be found in the eyes.
For more information about cognitive health, please see recent studies about how to repair a damaged brain after a stroke, and results showing this drug for mental health may harm the brain.
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