Omega-3 fatty acids and brain health

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association looked at the relationship between consumption of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and some physical measures of the brain that have been linked to “brain health” and “cognitive health.” This research was a bit different from many other studies of omega-3 fatty acids and potential health benefits, because most other studies have looked for relationships between dietary intake of these compounds (found especially in deep water fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, and mackerel) and major health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease or depression. The JAHA article, on the other hand, narrowed the focus by examining measurable small-scale physical changes in the brain over a period as long as five years.

The results: people with higher omega-3 fatty acid levels showed a significantly lower number of the small-scale physical brain changes that may be associated with brain dysfunction or cognitive decline.
The study authors concluded that, among the older men and women who were the study’s subjects, higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, “and in particular DHA, were associated with specific findings consistent with better brain health.”

Our comment: a fascinating study, because it adds another level of evidence contributing to the already widely accepted view that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for your brain, and indeed may provide important help in maintaining brain function as you age.

See the NYBC catalog for a selection of fatty acids, and note especially the Nordic Naturals Pro Omega choices, which are excellent quality fish oil supplements, containing the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids studied in the JAHA article:

FATTY ACIDS in the NYBC CATALOG

Of special interest is the Jarrow supplement Max DHA, which provides an enhanced dose of the omega-3 fatty acid often associated with brain health:

MAX DHA (Jarrow)

Reference:

Virtanen JK, Siscovick DS, Lemaitre RN, Longstreth WT, Spiegelman D, Rimm EB, King IB, & Mozaffarian D (2013). Circulating omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and subclinical brain abnormalities on MRI in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2 (5) PMID: 24113325

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Can this omega-3 fatty acid make you think better?

We don’t often put up such a “believe it or not” / “popular science” sounding headline on this Blog, but here’s a rather neatly done scientific study from 2010 that seems to confirm those old sayings about fish being “brain food.”

University of Pittsburgh researchers recently reported on an interesting study about the connection between omega-3 fatty acids (such as those found in fish oil) and cognitive function. The research study followed 280 healthy adults, aged 35-54, and looked at how they performed on tests of nonverbal reasoning and working memory. Researchers found that those who registered higher blood levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenonic acid (DHA) performed significantly better on these tests. They did not find any association between two other omega-3 fatty acids, a-linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and mental performance measures. They conclude that “DHA is associated with major aspects of cognitive performance in nonpatient adults [up to 55 years old]. These findings suggest that DHA is related to brain health throughout the lifespan…”

Our comment: in recent years there have been several studies relating dietary intake of fish or omega-3 fatty acids and better early brain development and lowered risk of cognitive disorders in late life. (Also , higher fish oil/omega-3 fatty acids intake has been linked to lower rates of depression.) This 2010 study adds evidence that it is specifically DHA that delivers cognitive benefit such as improved reasoning and working memory.

Reference: Matthew Muldoon et al, Serum Phospholipid Docosahexaenonic Acid Is Associated with Cognitive Functioning during Middle Adulthood. The Journal of Nutrition – J. Nutr. 140: 848–853, 2010

NYBC stocks this supplement, which, as the tradename suggests, focuses on providing a substantial dose of DHA, the omega-3 fatty acid found to be effective in the Univ. of Pittsburgh study:

DHA Max (Jarrow)

NYBC’s BrainPower Multi-Pak – low-cost “Ultramind Solution”

NYBC’s Low-Cost Alternative to the Pricey “Ultramind Solution”

The UltraMind Solution by Dr. Mark Hyman is one of many recent books that attempt to translate the piles of research from the last few decades about nutrition and brain function into useful guidelines for improving and maintaining good mental functioning and psychological well-being.

The Ultramind Solution contends that changing your diet–your “nutritional intake”–can often make a huge difference with conditions like depression, memory impairment, or “brain fog.” Dr. Hyman’s recommendations focus both on weeding out elements that harm the system (too much sugar, poorly chosen carbs, alcohol, cigarettes), and sticking to a menu of what’s good, especially what’s good for brain function: 1) omega fatty acids (found in salmon, sardines, flaxseed); 2) amino acid sources (nuts, lean meats); 3) high-quality carbs (for example, beans, peas, and lentils); 4) phyto-nutrients (plant foods containing antioxidants and other helpful substances, like blueberries, cilantro, etc.).

Finally, Dr. Hyman observes that, since more than 90% of Americans don’t get adequate nutrients from food (a finding from an often-cited US government survey), many people realistically will need to supplement in several key categories: 1) a multivitamin; 2) fish oil (omega fatty acids); 3) Calcium/Magnesium; 3) Vitamin D; 4) B complex vitamins; 5) probiotics (for good absorption of nutrients).

And yes, you can even go to the ”Ultramind” online store, where you can purchase a kit containing these supplements. The problem is that, at $121.50 for a month’s supply, this package is way overpriced. But never fear—NYBC, as a nonprofit supplements co-op, can offer an alternative that’s a close equivalent (or slightly better), but at only $90 for a month’s supply ($80 if you sign up for a $5 minimum annual membership in the co-op).

Here’s NYBC’s BrainPower Multi-Pak:

    Multivitamin: Added Protection without Iron (Douglas)
    Fish oil: Max DHA (Jarrow)
    Calcium/magnesium/Vitamin D: Ultra Bone Up (Jarrow)
    B: Methyl B-12 (other B vitamins included in the multi)
    Probiotic: Ultra Jarrodophilus

By the way, you can purchase any of these items individually at NYBC if you like. Again–at lower prices than in the “Ultramind” store.

B vitamins and brain function: the latest studies

The evidence continues to pile up that levels of the B vitamins, in particular B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folate), and B12 (cyanocobalamin), are closely related to maintaining cognitive function and warding off brain-related disorders like Alzheimer’s as we age. Well-designed studies, including the Veterans Affairs (VA) Normative Aging Study, have pointed particularly to Vitamin B deficits being associated with buildup of homocysteine, which in turn may be responsible for impairment to cognitive function.

B Vitamins are central to the preservation of mental capacities as we age. At the same time, the aging digestive system may not absorb nutrients as effectively as it once did; so an obvious strategy is to consider B complex supplementation as well as good dietary habits as we get older.

Read more on the B vitamins on the NYBC site:

B-right (Jarrow) We selected this as a good comprehensive B vitamin supplement.

B-12 Methylcobalamin (Jarrow) Studies have suggested that this is a very effective way to supplement with B12, which may not always be well-absorbed by the body when taken in other formats.

Some References:

Kim JM, Stewart R, Kim SW Changes in folate, vitamin B12 and homocysteine associated with incident dementia. J Neurol. Neurosurg. Psychiatry 2008;79;864-868.

Tucker KL, Qiao N, Scott T, et al. High homocysteine and low B vitamins predict cognitive decline in aging men: the Veterans Affairs Normative Aging Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Sep;82(3):627-35.

Wang HX, Wahlin A, Basun H, et al. Vitamin B12 and folate in relation to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Neurology 2001;56:1188-94.

Gingko Biloba used for dementia and for Alzheimer’s Disease

The University of Maryland Medical Center’s Complementary Medicine website, reviews recent studies of gingko biloba for dementia, cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease. Here is an excerpt:

Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

Ginkgo is widely used in Europe for treating dementia. It use is primarily due to its ability to improve blood flow to the brain and because of its antioxidant properties. The evidence that ginkgo may improve thinking, learning, and memory in people with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has been highly promising.

Clinical studies suggest that ginkgo may provide the following benefits for people with AD:

Improvement in thinking, learning, and memory (cognitive function)
Improvement in activities of daily living
Improvement in social behavior
Fewer feelings of depression

Several studies have found that ginkgo may be as effective as leading AD medications in delaying the symptoms of dementia in people with this debilitating condition. In addition, ginkgo is sometimes used preventively because it may delay the onset of AD in someone who is at risk for this type of dementia (for example, family history).

Citation (one of several recent studies cited by UMMC): Mazza M, Capuano A, Bria P, Mazza S. Ginkgo biloba and donepezil [Aricept]: a comparison in the treatment of Alzheimer’s dementia in a randomized placebo-controlled double-blind study. Eur J Neurol . 2006;13(9):981-5.

See also the NYBC entry on Gingko Biloba for additional information on use of this botanical for cognitive function.