Here’s what we know about omega-3 essential fatty acid: it protects against Alzheimer’s disease. Here’s what we haven’t been so sure of: is the efficacy of omega-3 limited to whole food sources, such as coldwater fish and chia seeds, or does it extend to omega-3 supplements like krill oil? Researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden discovered that omega-3 dietary supplements may not only protect against Alzheimer’s, but may also hold the key to treating the disease even after it takes hold.
Busting Through the Blood Brain Barrier
The blood brain barrier is a protective barricade that shields our brains from dangerous chemicals and toxins lurking in the blood. Unfortunately, the blood brain barrier doesn’t discriminate, and keeps drug substances and helpful nutrients from passing through as well. This presents a problem to researchers looking to develop drug therapies for cognitive decline. For instance, previous research indicates a link between inflammation and Alzheimer’s, but scientists have been unable to treat brain-related inflammation. Traditional anti-inflammatory medications cannot make it through the blood brain barrier in order to improve memory.
This new study, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, suggests that omega-3 dietary supplements can penetrate the blood brain barrier and affect both Alzheimer’s disease and inflammation. As part of the larger OmegAD project, researchers treated 18 patients with an omega-3 supplement and 15 patients with a placebo for 18 months. Patients in both groups had mild Alzheimer’s disease. The control group showed no change, but participants supplementing with omega-3 had higher levels of two omega-3 essential fatty acids: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Professor Jan Palmblad explains:
“In animals, DHA dietary supplements can lead to an increase in DHA concentrations in the central nervous system (CNS). 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.”
Supplementing with Omega-3
Dr. Mehmet Oz ranks omega-3 as one of the five critical supplements every woman must take, as well as one of the five most essential daily nutrition needs. Whether you are looking to protect against Alzheimer’s, inflammation, or another chronic illness, omega-3 is a handy supplement to have in your arsenal. However, not every omega-3 supplement does the trick. Some contain only DHA, others only EPA, and sometimes in concentrations too skimpy to impart protective benefits. Krill oil is a safe bet, as it naturally contains both EPA and DHA. If you are a strict vegetarian, omega-3 supplements derived from algae are your best bet, although many only contain DHA. Check your labels and be sure to supplement with at least 600 mg of DHA daily.