The October 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association reports the finding of Finnish researchers of a reduction in silent brain infarcts and white matter changes in older men and women with higher levels of plasma phospholipid long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Silent infarcts, which are small brain lesions caused by lack of blood flow, are associated with a decrease in thinking skills and are estimated to affect approximately 20% of healthy older individuals.
For the current investigation, Jyrki K. Virtanen and colleagues evaluated data from participants aged 65 and older in the Cardiovascular Health Study who underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain between 1992 and 1994. Of this group, 2,313 subjects underwent repeat MRI examination after five years. Those with a history of stroke or transient ischemic attack, or whose fatty acid data was incomplete were excluded from the current study. Plasma samples collected from 1992 to 1993 were analyzed for phospholipid polyunsaturated fatty acid levels.
“Our results support the beneficial effects of fish consumption, the major source of long‐chain omega‐3 PUFAs, on brain health in later life.”
When those whose long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (EPA, DHA and DPA) levels were among the top 25% of 2,293 participants were compared with those whose levels were among the lowest 25%, they were found to have a 40% lower risk of subclinical infarct detected during the first MRI. Subjects whose long-chain omega-3 levels were highest also had fewer white matter changes in comparison with those in the lowest group.
“Among older adults, higher phospholipid long‐chain omega‐3 PUFA content was associated with lower prevalence of subclinical infarcts and better white matter grade on MRI,” the authors write.