Could omega 3 fatty acids be the answer declining brain function?
There is little debate that cognitive function declines with age – Alzheimer’s Australia tells us that 1 in 10 Australians over the age of 65 are diagnosed with dementia and this number skyrockets to 3 in 10 by the age of 85. As we get older it seems we are always searching for something – keys, wallets, appropriate words for everyday nouns that seem to have just disappeared from our mental reach – my dad calls it Old Timers Disease.
Whether this is just a part of the ageing process is somewhat up for debate but epidemiological data does suggest that some components of cognitive decline are not inevitable.Small, S. (2001). Age related memory decline – current concepts and future directions. JAMA. 58,3 As more is learned about how and why brain function declines researchers are coming up with new hypotheses as to how to slow the process.
Professor Peter Howe PhD, the Professor of Nutrition Research and Director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre at the University of Newcastle is one such researcher. He has an extensive track record in the field of nutraceuticals research beginning in the 1980’s and is currently in the recruitment phase of a study evaluating the benefits of omega 3 supplementation on brain health.
Omega 3 fatty acids, and in particular the fatty acid found in fish oil – docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) , have long been associated with improvement in cardiovascular function. Previous studies show supplementation with DHA is associated with lower blood pressure and improvement of lipid profiles and endothelial cell function.Delgado-Lista, J. Perez-Martinez, P., Lopez-Miranda, J., & Perez-Jimenez, F. (2012). Long chain omega 3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: A Systematic Review. British Journal of Nutrition. 107, S200-213 The research team is investigating the hypothesis that the cardiovascular benefits of omega-3 and brain function are related. The key to Professor Howes study is that the improved function of the endothelial cells which line the blood vessels of the heart can be reproduced in the cerebral vessels and that this improvement in blood flow to the brain will lead to an improvement in cognitive function.
A sample population of 60 men or post-menopausal women aged 40-85 is currently being recruited. They will all have elevated (but stable) blood pressure, confirmed at their first screening visit at The University of Newcastle. The eligible volunteers will be grouped with the therapeutic group consuming four fish oil supplements daily for 20 weeks and the control group receiving a placebo. Blood samples and blood pressure will be taken at the beginning and end of the trial to measure any differences. At 10 weeks and 20 weeks participants will return to the university for a series of cognitive tests and ultrasounds to measure blood vessel function and any effect the DHA supplementation may have had on the function of the brain.
If their hypothesis is correct the implications for further research are quite significant. According to Alzheimer’s Australia vascular dementia contributes 15-20% to the total dementia cases in Australia and it is the effect of omega 3 fatty acids on these cerebral vessels that Professor Howe will be investigating.
The World Health Organisation recommends the average/healthy adult consume 430-570 mg of Omega 3 fatty acids (around 2 serves of fish) each week. Currently only 20% of Australians are reaching that not so lofty target. By 2061 22% of Australians will be over the age of 65 and the projected cost of dementia to our healthcare system is significant at $83 billion. If a supplement of DHA shown to improve cerebral endothelial function and this has an effect on cognition – although research is only in its infancy – it could pave the way for other studies into improving the cognition of older Australians.
References [ + ]
|1.||⇪||Small, S. (2001). Age related memory decline – current concepts and future directions. JAMA. 58,3|
|2.||⇪||Delgado-Lista, J. Perez-Martinez, P., Lopez-Miranda, J., & Perez-Jimenez, F. (2012). Long chain omega 3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: A Systematic Review. British Journal of Nutrition. 107, S200-213|