Fatty Acids and Epilepsy: DHA levels often low in patients

Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial to the proper development and function of cell membranes in the brain. But one particular fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is found at abnormally low levels in patients with uncontrolled epilepsy, according to researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. The study was based on 41 persons with a common type of seizure that develops in one brain region and is resistant to antiepileptic medication.

DHA is essential for the development of the nervous system and visual abilities in babies and for the proper functioning of the brain in adults. The human body cannot produce sufficient amounts of DHA for the needs of the eye and brain. Therefore, DHA must be consumed though foods, such as cold water fatty fish, or in supplemental form.

Forty-one people with seizures had blood drawn and analyzed for levels of DHA. Fifty-seven healthy volunteers, serving as the control group, also had their blood drawn and analyzed. The range in age and gender was similar in both groups. After complete analyses, researchers found significantly lower levels of DHA in the red blood cell membranes of the group with uncontrolled epilepsy when compared to DHA levels in the healthy group.

“By determining a deficiency in the red blood cell membranes in these patients, we infer that brain cell membranes are also depleted of this normal fatty acid,” says Thomas R. Henry, MD, associate professor of neurology. “This may help us link low DHA to seizures which cannot be managed by antiepileptic medications. Reasons for the reduced membrane levels are unclear at this time. Future studies are needed to determine if DHA supplementation can help control seizures in this patient population.”

Emory University Health Sciences Center, Apr 28, 2004