Can an abundance of fish oils in the diet keep your brain from shrinking? A new study published in the January 2014 issue of Neurology says yes.
A natural indicator of normal aging (but also a sign of Alzheimer’s disease), reduced brain size can foreshadow problems involving mental health, clarity and cognition. Due to this connection, researchers are enthusiastic about the latest findings linking omega-3 fatty acid consumption with larger brain volume.
An eight-year study
The Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study measured the levels of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) in the red blood cells of 1,111 elderly women. Eight years later, MRI scans were performed to gauge the brain volume of each participant, who were an average age of 78. The researchers discovered that those who had higher levels of omega-3s also had larger total brain volume eight years later. According to a press release by the American Academy of Neurology:
“These higher levels of fatty acids can be achieved through diet and the use of supplements, and the results suggest that the effect on brain volume is the equivalent of delaying the normal loss of brain cells that comes with aging by one to two years,” said study author James V. Pottala, PhD.
Moreover, higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids were associated with a 2.7 percent larger volume of the hippocampus region of the brain – which plays a significant role in memory. It’s interesting to note that the hippocampus begins to atrophy long before symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease appear.
Additional brain-boosting benefits
Need further incentive to up your daily omega-3s? Research has shown supplementation with EPA and DHA reduces aggression and hostility. And harried (but generally healthy) volunteers markedly lowered their stress level after taking 1,500 mg/day of DHA.
Omega-3s also improve symptoms of depression better than Prozac. In one study, “50 percent of subjects responded well to fluoxetine [Prozac] alone, 56 percent to EPA supplementation (1,000 mg), and an impressive 81 percent in people who took both forms of treatment,” states Julius Goepp, M.D., in the article “Omega-3 Fatty Acids Increase Brain Volume While Reversing Many Aspects of Neurologic Aging.”
Dr. Goepp adds, “At doses above 2,000 mg, results are uniformly dramatic. Double-blind, placebo-controlled trials are revealing substantial superiority of omega-3 therapy to placebo, using standard depression assessment scales. Numerous other studies are further validating these dramatic effects on depression in a host of other contexts: depressive symptoms were alleviated in patients with Parkinson’s disease, and in pregnant women with major depressive disorder. A particularly powerful effect was shown in middle-aged women experiencing psychological distress and depressive symptoms during the menopausal transition.”