Scientists in the US have linked low levels of the omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), to lower scores on cognitive tests and lower brain volume. The study is published in the journal Neurology.
Researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles studied blood samples from 1,575 cognitively healthy people, with an average age of 67. Participants were also given MRI scans to assess their total brain volume, and a series of cognitive tests were carried out.
The results showed that those with the lowest levels of DHA in their red blood cells tended to have lower brain volume compared to those with the highest levels of DHA. Those with less DHA also scored lower on some cognitive tests.
The researchers suggest that the lower brain volumes seen in their study were equivalent to approximately two years of ‘brain ageing’. They argue that further study is needed to confirm whether people with diets low in omega-3 fatty acids – which are mainly found in oily fish – are more likely to develop dementia.
Dr Marie Janson, Director of Development at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said:
“There has been much research into the effects of omega-3, and this study will add to that debate. One strength of this study is that it used blood samples to measure people’s dietary intake of omega-3, rather than relying on answers to questionnaires to assess the link between omega-3 and cognition. However this research does not tell us whether the people studied got worse or better over time.
“We would need to see large-scale, long-term studies before we can know whether a diet high in omega-3 can protect against dementia, and people shouldn’t fill their freezers with oily fish just yet. The best evidence for reducing your risk of dementia is to eat a healthy, balanced diet, take regular exercise and keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check.
“With 820,000 people affected by dementia in the UK, and a rapidly ageing population, we urgently need to find ways to prevent and treat the condition – that means we must invest in research.”
This material has been published with the kind permission of Alzheimer Research UK.
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