On the heels’ of the NFL’s acknowledgment that there is a link between football and brain disease, new research suggests that fish oil may help protect the brain against the trauma of being clobbered by a 250-pound linebacker.
As part of a double–blind study, more than 60 members of the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs football team began taking omega-3 fatty acid Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) at the beginning of the summer and were monitored throughout the football season. Michele Kirk, MD, director of Sports Medicine at JPS Health Network and team physician at TCU and her team designed the study to focus on a biological indicator of brain trauma called neurofilament light. As the number of physical impacts increase, the amount of neurofilament light in the blood does too.
The results revealed that the DHA did help protect the brain. "If they were on the DHA, they had a 40 percent reduction in that neurofilament compared to those that were on the placebo," Kirk told newsworks.org. "That may indicate that DHA can be protective against some brain trauma." Previous research supports the critical role omega-3s play in brain health and development among people who don’t regularly get pummeled by large men running at full speed.
The new research, the first large scale study that looked at the potential of DHA to protect athletes’ brains against trauma, was published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Previous research has shown the effect in animals.
"For the DHA to have this type of effect, that's quite striking and quite promising," Floyd Ski Chilton, PhD, professor of physiology and pharmacology at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, told newsworks.org.
"DHA is probably a lot more important in adolescence and later development than we first thought," he said. He said it's possible that omega-3 supplements like DHA could help protect athletes' brains by preventing inflammation associated with injuries.
Hope for the neuro-protective powers of DHA are more promising than for chocolate milk. The University of Maryland recently disavowed its study that found that the sweet stuff could help athletes recover from concussions, citing a range of problems uncovered by an internal investigation.