A new study from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden has revealed that Omega-3 fatty acids in dietary supplements can cross the blood brain barrier to affect Alzheimer’s patients. The research was published in the Journal of Internal Medicine and showed that regions of the brain that demonstrate inflammation causing the symptoms of the disease are impacted. The central nervous system (CNS) acts as a reservoir for the accumulation of omega-3 and other essential fattay acids.
“Earlier population studies indicate that omega-3 can protect against Alzheimer’s disease, which makes it interesting to study the effects of dietary supplements containing this group of fatty acids in patients who have already developed the disease,” says the study’s lead author Dr Yvonne Freund-Levi.
Previous research has demonstrated that lower than normal brain concentrations of a particular type of fatty acid was observed in Alzheimer’s disease affected patients.
The purpose of this study was to investigate whether omega-3 dietary supplements change the fatty acid profile of the CNS in patients with mild Alzheimer’s disease.
ALthough the study population was small with thirty-three patients participated in the study, 18 of whom received a daily omega-3 supplement and 15 a placebo for six months, the results revealed that the first group had higher levels of both DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, another omega-3 fatty acid) in their cerebrospinal fluid (which surrounds the CNS) and blood. No such change was seen in the placebo group.
It was also found that levels of DHA correlated directly with the degree of change in Alzheimer’s disease and inflammatory markers in the cerebrospinal fluid.
“In animals, DHA dietary supplements can lead to an increase in DHA concentrations in the CNS,” says Professor Jan Palmblad, who initiated the study. “Here we show that the same applies to humans, which suggests that omega-3 fatty acids in dietary supplements cross the blood-brain barrier. However, much work remains to be done before we know how these fatty acids can be used in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease to halt memory loss.”
Yvonne Freund Levi, Inger Vedin, Tommy Cederholm, Hans Basun, Gerd Faxén Irving, Maria Eriksdotter, Erik Hjorth, Marianne Schultzberg, Bengt Vessby, Lars-Olof Wahlund, Norman Salem, Jan Palmblad. Transfer of omega-3 fatty acids across the blood-brain barrier after dietary supplementation with a docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)-rich omega-3 fatty acid preparation in patients with Alzheimer’s disease: the OmegAD study. Journal of Internal Medicine, 2013; DOI: 10.1111/joim.12166