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:


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)


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


Supplements for Bone Health: A Special Note for People with HIV

Bone health has been a growing concern for people with HIV, since studies have indicated that HIVers experience higher than expected rates of osteopenia (bone mineral density lower than normal) and osteoporosis (bone mineral density very low, with heightened risk of fractures). A 2012 review from Johns Hopkins researchers, for example, concluded that the “increasing prevalence of osteoporosis in HIV-infected persons translates into a higher risk of fracture, likely leading to excess morbidity and mortality as the HIV-infected population ages.”

The Johns Hopkins study urged more attention to Vitamin D deficiency and supplementation as one way to counter these HIV-related bone issues. But we think it’s also worth looking at recent Canadian research, not focused especially on people with HIV, but with some striking findings about the value of multiple supplements to support healthy bone mineral density levels. The supplements investigated included vitamin D(3), vitamin K(2), strontium, magnesium and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), all chosen because of previous evidence about their benefit to bone health. Following a year-long study of patients with varying levels of bone loss, the Canadian researchers determined that this supplement regimen was as effective as a class of drugs often prescribed for osteoporosis (bisphosphonates, such as Fosamax or Boniva). And, they found that the combination of supplements was even effective for people who had failed to benefit from the prescription osteoporosis drugs.

We hope to see further study of supplement combinations for bone loss in people with HIV. It’s an acknowledged problem as HIVers get older, and if there’s a potential way to lower this health risk over the long run, let’s take a serious look at it!

Note: NYBC stocks Jarrow’s Bone Up or Ultra Bone Up, plus Max DHA or EPA-DHA Balance, which provide most of the micronutrients in the Canadian study (missing is the Strontium, but NYBC hopes to have a recommendation for that in the near future).

Visit the NYBC website for more information:


The Johns Hopkins study: Walker Harris V, Brown TT. Bone loss in the HIV-infected patient: evidence, clinical implications, and treatment strategies. J Infect Dis. 2012 Jun;205 Suppl 3:S391-8. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jis199.

The Canadian study: Genuis SJ, Bouchard TP. Combination of Micronutrients for Bone (COMB) Study: bone density after micronutrient intervention. J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:354151. doi: 10.1155/2012/354151.

Omega-3 fatty acids (especially DHA) may protect against ulcerative colitis

Omega-3 fatty acids (for example, the EPA and the DHA in your fish oil supplements) have an anti-inflammatory effect, of interest to researchers in a recent study of inflammatory bowel disease, specifically ulcerative colitis. This large study, which focused on people from 45 to 74 years old, found that those with the highest consumption of DHA (410 mg to 2,000 mg per day) had a 77% reduction in the risk of developing ulcerative colitis over an average period of four years than those consuming the lowest amount (up to 110 mg per day). On the basis of their research, the study authors suggest that higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, could have a protective effect against development of ulcerative colitis.

For more information on DHA, EPA and other fatty acid supplements, see the NYBC category:
Fatty acid supplements
Note that NYBC stocks a variety of these supplements, both from fish oil (Nordic Naturals and Jarrow), and from vegetarian (algae) sources.

John, S et al. Dietary n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the aetiology of ulcerative colitis: a UK prospective cohort study. Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2010 May; 22(5):602-6

DHA Omega-3 (algae-based, no fish)

NYBC recently added to its catalog this omega-3 fatty acid supplement which is derived from a vegetable source (algae) rather than from fish:

DHA Omega-3 (Natrol) Each bottle, 30 softgels. Each softgel, 100 mg of DHA derived from algae (no fish/vegetarian). Suitable for vegetarians who wish to avoid fish/menhaden sources. This product recently passed a consumerlabs test as the only example of a non-fish-based omega-3 fatty acid supplement. Suggested use is 1 softgel with a meal or as directed.

See other entries under Omega-3 fatty acids on this Blog for evidence and recommendations for use.

Omega-3 fatty acids improve heart function

A study published in Jan, 2011 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that omega-3 fatty acid (fish oil) supplementation improved heart function, exercise function, and peak oxygen uptake in heart failure patients on standard therapies. This study, led by Mihai Gheorghiade, MD, of Northwestern University in Chicago, added detail to a large, long-term investigation demonstrating that omega-3 fatty acids reduce mortality and cardiovascular hospitalizations in patients with chronic heart failure.

The study randomly assigned 133 heart failure patients to receive either a placebo or the omega-3 fatty acids. (Active treatment consisted of 1-gram capsules containing about 850mg of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Patients took five capsules daily for the first month, followed by two capsules daily for the rest of the study). After a year, the patients who took the omega-3 fatty acids had a significant improvement in left ventricular ejection fraction (a measure of heart function), whereas those on placebo showed a decline in this measure. Furthermore, while 30% of the patients on placebo required cardiovascular hospitalization during the year, only 6% of those taking the omega-3 supplements were hospitalized due to cardiovascular condition.

In addition to the high-quality Pro Omega Nordic Naturals fish oils supplements, NYBC now stocks Jarrow’s EPA-DHA Balance, which provides another convenient way to match the omega-3 fatty acid supplementation levels used in research studies:

EPA-DHA Balance (Jarrow)

Pro Omega Nordic Natural (1000mg/60 softgels)

Pro Omega-Nordic Naturals (1000mg/180 softgels)

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)

Fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) and its benefits for Type 2 Diabetes

The Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University provides a good review of research on fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) and Type 2 diabetes (see excerpt below). Although there was some concern that fish oil supplements might interfere with glycemic control (= control of blood sugar levels) in diabetics, that does not seem to be the case. Moreover, fish oil supplementation can significantly lower triglycerides in people with diabetes, and there is good epidemiological evidence that over the long term higher omega-3 fatty acid intakes may also decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease in diabetics.

Cardiovascular diseases are the leading causes of death in individuals with diabetes mellitus (DM). Hypertriglyceridemia […] is a common lipid abnormality in individuals with type 2 DM, and a number of randomized controlled trials have found that fish oil supplementation significantly lowers serum triglyceride levels in diabetic individuals. Although early uncontrolled studies raised concerns that fish oil supplementation adversely affected blood glucose (glycemic) control, randomized controlled trials have not generally found adverse effects of fish oil supplementation on long-term glycemic control. A systematic review that pooled the results of 18 randomized controlled trials including more than 800 diabetic patients found that fish oil supplementation significantly lowered serum triglycerides, especially in those with hypertriglyceridemia. A more recent meta-analysis that combined the results of 18 randomized controlled trials in individuals with type 2 DM or metabolic syndrome found that fish oil supplementation decreased serum triglycerides by 31 mg/dl compared to placebo, but had no effect on serum cholesterol, fasting glucose or hemoglobin A1c concentrations. Although few controlled trials have examined the effect of fish oil supplementation on cardiovascular disease outcomes in diabetics, a prospective study that followed 5103 women diagnosed with type 2 DM, but free of cardiovascular disease or cancer at the start of the study, found that higher fish intakes were associated with significantly decreased risks of CHD over a 16-year follow up period. Thus, increasing EPA and DHA intakes may be beneficial to diabetic individuals, especially those with elevated serum triglycerides. Moreover, there is little evidence that daily EPA + DHA intakes of less than 3 g/day adversely affect long-term glycemic control in diabetics. The American Diabetes Association recommends that diabetic individuals increase omega-3 fatty acid consumption by consuming two to three 3-oz servings of fish weekly.

See also the NYBC entry on DHA Max, a DHA/EPA supplement from Jarrow.