Omega-3s could improve brain structure, cognition at midlife

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In a study from The University of Texas, scientists found eating cold-water fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids may preserve brain health and enhance cognition in middle age.

They found having at least some omega-3s in red blood cells was linked to better brain structure and cognitive function among healthy study volunteers in their 40s and 50s.

In the study, the team looked at the relation of red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid concentrations with MRI and cognitive markers of brain aging in middle-aged adults.

The researchers also studied the effect of omega-3 red blood cell concentrations in volunteers who carried APOE4, a genetic variation linked to higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

They examined 2,183 dementia- and stroke-free participants and found that higher omega-3 index was associated with larger hippocampal volumes. The hippocampus, a structure in the brain, plays a major role in learning and memory.

Consuming more omega-3s was associated with better abstract reasoning, or the ability to understand complex concepts using logical thinking.

APOE4 carriers with a higher omega-3 index had the less small-vessel disease. The APOE4 gene is associated with cardiovascular disease and vascular dementia.

The researchers used a technique called gas chromatography to measure docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) concentrations from red blood cells. The omega-3 index was calculated as DHA plus EPA.

They say omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA are key micronutrients that enhance and protect the brain.

The team divided participants into those who had very little omega-3 red blood cell concentration and those who had at least a little and more.

They saw the worst outcomes in the people who had the lowest consumption of omega-3s.

Researchers don’t know how DHA and EPA protect the brain.

One theory is that, because those fatty acids are needed in the membrane of neurons when they are replaced with other types of fatty acids, that’s when neurons (nerve cells) become unstable.

Another explanation may have to deal with the anti-inflammatory properties of DHA and EPA.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about a new drug to stop brain tumor growth, and supplements for brain health show no benefit.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about the cause of ‘brain fog’ in COVID-19, and results showing reducing simple carbs in meals may prevent brain aging.

The study was conducted by Claudia Satizabal et al and published in Neurology.

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