Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Do Fish Oils Prevent Alzheimer's Disease?

If a drug company announced that a new drug reduced the incidence of Alzheimer's disease by 60% in a large, impressive study, the news would fill newspaper headlines and be the talk of many a cable news and daytime talk show for weeks. But what if this remarkable discovery wasn't a new drug, but a natural substance from which the pharmaceutical companies don't stand to make any profit (and therefore have no incentive to promote) - would it get the same attention?
That would be a no. A growing number of studies are showing that fish oils (omega-3 fatty acids) can help treat mild Alzheimer's disease and may even prevent Alzheimer's from developing in the first place. One of the most impressive prospective studies on this topic followed 815 older people over 4 years.  By following people before any illness had developed, researchers were able to identify factors associated with Alzheimer's disease development in some participants. One of the most compelling findings of this study found that participants who consumed fish at least once per week or more had 60% less risk of Alzheimer's disease compared with those who rarely or never ate fish.  For those who ate the most fish, the reduction of developing Alzheimer's was even greater, at 70 percent.  This positive result was also correlated with people who took omega-3 fatty acids as a supplement, particularly DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is a component of fish oils and a major component of human brain tissue.
Since the mid 1990's a number of studies in the U.S. and abroad have found similar findings. In a 7-year study of 1674 people over age 67 conducted in 2002, participants whose diet had the greatest consumption of fish also had the lowest incidence of dementia. A 2006 study found that taking fish oil supplements can slow cognitive decline in people with mild Alzheimer's disease. No matter the study, the same essential findings were consistent in each one.  The more fish people ate (or omega-3 fatty acids they consumed), the less likely they were to develop dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.  It is believed that fish is beneficial because omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation in the brain and assist the regeneration of nerve cells.  The evidence is not complete, but it is promising, more promising than many of the drugs that are prescribed by doctors every day.
Experts believed that much of the degeneration of aging is due to chronic inflammation. The anti-inflammatory effect of fish oils or other forms of omega-3 fatty acids has been proven in studies of people with inflammatory disorders like rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. There are other reasons to get enough fish oils in your diet. Fish oils can reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death by 40%-80%. Fish oils are also shown to improve glucose metabolism, improve vascular flexibility, reduce blood pressure, and may even help prevent some cancers. One important note of caution: Fish oils also have antithrombotic effects, that is, they cause a slight thinning of the blood. If you have a bleeding disorders or take Coumadin (warfarin) or other blood thinners (even low dose aspirin), check with your doctor before taking fish oils.


nick C said...

Ciao Tony,

I'm old enough to remember when it was actually fashionable to take a tablespoon of cod liver oil every day. And I heard the practice even goes back further than that! So, the benefits of fish oil were always there for a long time, but why are we finally realizing them now? Is it possibly because of the many nasty side effects of the statin drugs? Maybe people are looking for reasonable alternatives to the pharmacological soup served up by the drug companies? I'll tell ya, I have a cousin who's a cardiologist, and he nearly swears by the cardiovascular benefits of fish oil. Not only does it lower bad cholesterol and triglycerides, but the other beneficial effects on the mind and the joints are very noteworthy. The only issue I have is with the daily dosage. I think there's some controversy on how much a person should take in order to reap the glory:) I personally take about 3 large pills per day, which is probably not enough. However, I once bought the liquid variety made in Norway, and I have to say that I felt more of an effect with that particular product, such as decreased inflammation after hard workouts, smoother skin and hair, better flexibility, better reasoning abilities, etc. So, I guess the old-timers had it right with that tablespoon a day. LOL!

Alzheimer's is really a bummer--living 10 to 20 or more years at the end of your life in a complete state of dementia and confusion is not my idea of a good retirement.... You've got it right, Tony, when you say that supplementation is the key to overall fitness.

Thanks again,

Christine said...

Thank you for bringing this topic up. It is so near and dear to my heart. My grandmother was diagnosed at 60 and died as a vegatable at 72. My mother was diagnosed at 60 also and is battling this terrible diease and her brother was just diagnosed at 62. I current take the beachbody omegas and eat fish several times a week and read the book you reccommended SPARK and believe that vigorous exercise as well as good diet and supplt. will help.
Chrissy-300 challenge

Glynis said...

And the $20,000 question is: what if you are allergic to fish?

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