Higher level of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, is associated with lower dementia Risk

Individuals who have higher levels of a fatty acid known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in their blood may have a significantly lower risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, according to a report in the Archives of Neurology, one of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Archives journals.

Age, family history and genetic factors have all been found to increase the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, a neurodegenerative disorder that causes 70 percent of cases of dementia in the elderly, according to background information in the article. A study by researchers from the Tufts University has found that DHA, an omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid found in fish, appears to affect dementia risk and to be important for the proper functioning of the central nervous system.

Ernst J. Schaefer, M.D., Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston, and colleagues studied the association between DHA levels and dementia in the blood of 899 men and women who were part of the population-based Framingham Heart Study. The participants of an average age of 76 years provided blood samples and underwent neuropsychological testing, and were followed for an average of nine years. A subgroup of 488 also filled out a questionnaire assessing their diet, including information about fish consumption. None of the participants had dementia at the beginning of the study; and they were given a mental examination every two years to screen for its development.

Through the nine-year study period, 99 out of 899 participants developed dementia, including 71 with Alzheimer’s disease. After controlling for other known risk factors for dementia, including age, and dividing the study population into fourths (quartiles) based on levels of DHA, the researchers found that men and women in the quartile with the highest DHA levels had a 47 percent lower risk of developing dementia and 39 percent lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease than the other three quartiles with lower DHA levels.

Among the participants who completed the dietary questionnaire, those in the top quartile of blood DHA levels reported that they ate an average of .18 grams of DHA a day and an average of three fish servings a week. Participants in the other quartiles ate substantially less fish. DHA levels in the blood could be contributed to two dietary sources: from consumption of fish (or DHA supplement), or from the liver conversion of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid rich in flaxseeds and nuts, to DHA.

In this Tufts’ study, the correlation between blood DHA content and development of dimension is significant, indicating that DHA intake is an important in lowering the risk of dimension later in life.

What’s the take home message? For a healthy brain, incorporate DHA rich food into your diet. Fish is the most obvious choice. But if you really don’t like seafood, add more nuts and seeds into your diet will do the trick too.

Thanks for reading.

Journal Reference: Ernst J. Schaefer et al. Plasma Phosphatidylcholine Docosahexaenoic Acid Content and Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer Disease: The Framingham Heart StudyArch Neurol. 2006; 63(11):1545-1550. doi: 10.1001/archneur.63.11.1545

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