Omega-3 fatty acids, found in soy, fish and other oils may help protect against Alzheimer's disease, U.S. researchers from the University of California Los Angeles School of Medicine reported last week.
Tests on mice showed that a diet high in one particular omega-3 fatty acid called DHA helped protect the brain against memory loss and cell damage caused by Alzheimer's disease.
The studies were performed with mice bred to have genetic mutations that cause brain lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease. Although the investigators were originally looking for something else, they noticed the mice did not experience the expected memory loss or brain damage. Notably, the synapses, the connections between brain cells, were not as damaged as would be expected.
Earlier studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may prevent Alzheimer's disease, and the researchers realized that the mice's diet could be countering the progression of the Alzheimer's-related brain damage they were trying to accomplish.
The researchers removed fish and soy from the mouse diet and substituted safflower oil instead, which is low in omega-3 and rich in another fatty acid called omega-6, which does not include DHA. Some mice stayed on the original diet and others got the new, less-healthy diet.
They found high amounts of synaptic damage in the brains of the Alzheimer's-diseased mice that ate the DHA-depleted diet. Mutant mice on the DHA-rich diet did better on memory tests than the mice fed safflower oil.
Researchers concluded that the DHA-enriched diet was holding the genetic disease at bay.
People are already advised to eat omega-3 fatty acids to protect the heart. DHA and a related fatty acid called AHA are also added to some infant formulas and milks to promote brain development. They are found naturally in human breast milk and oily fish.
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