By Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (December 21, 2006)—A recent study has revealed that while taking fish oil might not do much for people who already have established Alzheimer’s disease, it might help prevent it in the first place and slow progression it its early stages. This is exciting news, as there is no known dependable protection from this devastating disease.
Once thought to be part of the normal aging process, Alzheimer’s is now recognized as a brain-damaging disease. Since people who eat more fish seem to suffer from Alzheimer’s less frequently, a Swedish research team hypothesized that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish might help improve symptoms in people who have the disease. Fish oil is rich in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), which is also the dominant omega-3 fatty acid in brain tissue. In test tube studies, DHA stimulates the growth of nerve cell branches, which is associated with improved brain function.
In the first study of its kind, published in the Archives of Neurology, researchers gave a concentrated fish oil supplement to people with Alzheimer’s with the hopes of delaying disease progression.
For six months, 174 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease took 1.7 grams of DHA and 0.6 grams of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) derived from fish oil or a placebo each day. After this time, all of the people were given the fish oil supplement for another six months.
Taking the fish oil did not seem to slow the progression of the disease in most people; however, it did help delay the progression in the group with very mild Alzheimer’s.
“Consistent with other studies, this suggests that high intake of DHA-rich fish prevents development of Alzheimer’s disease,” the researchers concluded. They added, “Results from the present study support the idea that omega-3 fatty acids have a role in the primary prevention of Alzheimer’s disease, but not in the treatment of manifest disease.”
The Alzheimer’s Association has put together a list of warning signs to help people differentiate between normal age-related changes and those that might indicate a more serious problem. The checklist includes changes in memory, problems with language, disorientation to time and place, changes in judgment, problems with abstract thinking, misplacing things, loss of initiative, and changes in mood, behavior, and personality (more information is available at www.alz.org/AboutAD/Warning.asp).
(Arch Neurol 2006;63:1402–8)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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