A type of omega-3 fatty acid may slow the growth of two brain lesions that are hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, UC Irvine scientists have discovered. The finding suggests that diets rich in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can help prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease later in life.
This study with genetically modified mice is the first to show that DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, can slow the accumulation of tau, a protein that leads to the development of neurofibrillary tangles.
Such tangles are one of two signature brain lesions of Alzheimer?s disease. DHA also was found to reduce levels of the protein beta amyloid, which can clump in the brain and form plaques, the other Alzheimer?s lesion.
Previous studies have shown that DHA may have therapeutic value for Alzheimer?s patients, but this research is among the first to show that it may delay the onset of the disease. DHA is found in fish, eggs, organ meats, micro-algae, fortified foods and food supplements.
?We are greatly excited by these results, which show us that simple changes in diet can positively alter the way the brain works and lead to protection from Alzheimer?s disease pathology,? said Frank LaFerla, professor of neurobiology and behavior and co-author of the study.
This research appears in the April 18 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
?Combined with mental stimulation, exercise, other dietary intakes, and avoiding stress and smoking, we believe that people can significantly improve their odds against this disease,? said Kim Green, scientist and lead author on the DHA, learning and stress studies.
Alzheimer?s is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder that affects more than 4.5 million adults in the United States. With an aging population, that number could approach 20 million by 2050. Five percent of people older than 65 have Alzheimer?s, and up to one-half of people are affected by age 80.