A report published online on January 22, 2014 in the journal Neurology® reveals an association between higher levels of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and greater brain volume in older age. “These higher levels of fatty acids can be achieved through diet and the use of supplements, and the results suggest that the effect on brain volume is the equivalent of delaying the normal loss of brain cells that comes with aging by one to two years,” commented lead author James V. Pottala, PhD, of the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls.
“This study thus adds to the growing literature suggesting that higher omega-3 fatty acid tissue levels, which can be achieved by dietary changes, may hold promise for delaying cognitive aging and/or dementia.”
The study included 1,111 participants in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, which was a subset study of subjects enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative. Subjects were between the ages of 65 to 80 years upon enrollment. Blood samples were analyzed for red blood cell fatty acid levels and magnetic resonance imaging was conducted a median of eight years later to evaluate brain volume.
Having a higher blood level of EPA combined with DHA was associated with larger total brain volume and hippocampal volume at the time of the MRI scans. (The hippocampus is an area of the brain involved with learning.)
“In this cohort of postmenopausal women, lower red blood cell EPA plus DHA levels correlated with smaller total and hippocampal brain volumes, the former being an indication of cognitive aging and the latter being centrally involved with Alzheimer’s disease pathology,” Dr Pottala and his colleagues conclude. “This study thus adds to the growing literature suggesting that higher omega-3 fatty acid tissue levels, which can be achieved by dietary changes, may hold promise for delaying cognitive aging and/or dementia.”