Too little omega-3 fatty acids may accelerate brain aging

March 6, 2012 in Nutrition for Older Adults, Nutrition Topics in the News

Too little omega-3 fatty acids may accelerate brain aging

According to a new study published in the journal Neurology, a diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients found in oily fish, may cause your brain to age faster and lose some of its memory and thinking abilities. The two omega-3 fatty acids in fish are called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

The study revealed that people with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had lower brain volumes that were equivalent to about two years of structural brain aging.

For the study, researchers from the Easton Center for Alzheimer's Disease Research and the Division of Geriatrics, University of California at Los Angeles had 1,575 people, average age 67,  who were free of dementia undergo MRI brain scans.

They were also given tests that measured cognitive function and the omega-3 fatty acid levels in their red blood cells. Omega-3 fatty acids in red blood cells reflect dietary intake over the past three months. 

The researchers found that people whose DHA levels were among the bottom 25 percent of the participants had lower brain volume compared to people who had higher DHA levels. Similarly, participants with levels of all omega-3 fatty acids in the bottom 25 percent also scored lower on tests of visual memory, problem solving, multi-tasking and abstract thinking.

Omega-3 fatty acids in fish, especially DHA (docosahexanaenoic acid), make up 60 percent of the communicating membranes of the brain where they keep the lining of brain cells flexible so memory messages can pass easily between cells.

DHA also reduces inflammation and may prevent the build-up of a protein called beta amyloid, which can interfere with communication between brain cells.

Leslie's Note: There is no official recommended intake for omega-3 fatty acids. Many experts advise an intake of 500 to 1000 milligrams of DHA and EPA (combined) per day for cardiac health. Eating six ounces of salmon per week will provide roughly 500 milligrams of DHA + EPA per day.

Since omega-3 fats store in the body, you don't have to each fish every day. A six ounce serving of Atlantic salmon, for instance, contains 3650 milligrams of DHA and EPA.  (3650/7 days = 521 milligrams per day)

If you don't like fish, consider taking a fish oil supplement to get omega-3 fatty acids. Most capsules provide 300, 500 or 600 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids. Many liquid fish oils contain 1300 milligrams of DHA and EPA per teaspoon. 

All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.