UCLA neuroscientists have shown for the first time that a diet high in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA helps protect the brain against the memory loss and cell damage caused by Alzheimer’s disease. The new research suggests that a DHA-rich diet may lower one’s risk of Alzheimer’s disease and may help slow progression of the disorder in its later stages.
“This is the first proof that our diets affect how our brain cells communicate with each other under the duress of Alzheimer’s disease,” explained Greg Cole, PhD, senior author and a professor of neurology. “We saw that a diet rich in DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, dramatically reduces the impact of the Alzheimer’s gene.”
“Consuming more DHA is something the average person can easily control,” added Cole. “Anyone can buy DHA in its purified form, fish oil capsules, high-fat fish or DHA-supplemented eggs.”
Cole and his colleagues focused on Alzheimer’s damage to synapses – the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning – using mice bred with genetic mutations that cause the brain lesions linked to advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
“We found high amounts of synaptic damage in the brains of the Alzheimer’s-diseased mice that ate a DHA-depleted diet,” observed one researcher. “These changes closely resembled those we see in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease.”
Although the mice on the DHA-supplemented diet also carried the Alzheimer’s genes, they still performed much better in memory testing than the mice in the first group.
“After adjusting for all possible variables, DHA was the only factor remaining that protected the mice against the synaptic damage and memory loss that should have resulted from their Alzheimer’s genes,” said Cole. “We concluded that the DHA-enriched diet was holding their genetic disease at bay.”
University of California – Los Angeles, Sept 1, 2004