A Saint Louis University physician-scientist and author of a new book on how herbs, supplements, foods, vitamins and medications affect the body is researching whether an omega-3 fatty acid found in certain fish slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We have long considered fish to be brain food, and this research will help us find out if we’re right,” says George Grossberg, M.D., Samuel W. Fordyce professor and director of the division of geriatric psychiatry at Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

“Certain fatty fish, such as salmon, halibut, mackerel and sardines, as well as almonds, walnuts and soy, are high in the specific fatty acid we are studying. Researchers have known for sometime this substance is associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. This large-scale trial studies if it has some of the same protective effects on the brain.”

Dr. Grossberg is principal investigator of the clinical trial at Saint Louis University, which is one of 52 sites across the United States participating in the National Institutes of Health study.

He also is the author of “The Essential Herb-Drug-Vitamin Interaction Guide,” which is a comprehensive listing of what various herbs and supplements do, their possible side effects and how they might interact with other medications and foods.

Dr. Grossberg and his colleagues are looking at how a substance known as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), one of the three most important fatty acids in omega-3 fatty acids, affects Alzheimer’s disease.

Their work extends European research and research by scientists who collaborated on the Framingham Heart Study that found people with the highest levels of DHA in their blood were about half as likely to develop dementia as those with lower levels. Other small control studies show people who supplement with omega-3 fatty acids are at lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, Dr. Grossberg adds, which means there may be some protective benefit to the supplements.

“In this study, we will evaluate whether a supplement that contains pure DHA slows the progression of mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease over an 18 month period,” Dr. Grossberg says.

“We will assess the progress of study volunteers using standard tests that measure whether their abilities to think and function are getting worse.”

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