A Lesser-known Ability of Fish Oil

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Famously known for aiding the heart, fish oil could also play other important medicinal roles in the body. Recent research has indicated that fish oil — high in omega-3 fatty acids — is linked with a significantly lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

In one long-term study, researchers tracked the progress of 900 health adults for about a decade. In the patients (average age: 76), scientists discovered that those whose blood levels were highest in one particular kind of omega-3 found in fish oil were half as likely to develop dementia as those with lower levels.

The type of omega-3 polyunsaturated fat in this case is”docosahexaenoic acid” (DHA). It is one of several omega-3s found in fatty fish also sold in supplement form. It is one of the most powerful unsaturated fats around. And that idea played out in the latest study, as researchers looked at seven omega-3s to see if they reduced dementia risk and only one had an effect.

Using a questionnaire, information about the participants’ typical diet, and blood samples, the researchers were able to measure levels of DHA and intake of fish. Over the course of the study, 99 people developed dementia; 71 of these cases were Alzheimer’s disease. Now, on average, people had 3.6% DHA of all fatty acids. The top quarter of people had values above 4.2%. In this top group, people had a 47% reduced risk of getting dementia. Only those who had the highest levels of DHA had this reduced risk, and those who ate fish two or more times a week had a reduced risk of 40%.

This finding is consistent with earlier findings that laid a link between DHA and dementia. Healthy individuals have been found to have higher levels of DHA, whereas Alzheimer’s patients have lower levels of DHA in brain tissues. In fact, a few years ago, a major study found that people who ate fish just once per week had a 60% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers believe the omega-3s could help brain nerve cells function more efficiently.

While all this isn’t hard evidence that fish oil prevents dementia, it does suggest a strong possibility. Nor does eating fish mean you automatically get a rush of DHA. The type of fish, for instance, is very important. The fattier the fish, the better, and these include salmon, tuna, herring, halibut, mackerel, lake trout, striped bass, and sardines. (Also note that frying the fish will naturally lower levels of DHA.)

Far and away your more reliable way to specifically raise DHA levels is to take supplements. Fish oil capsules (including specific fish, such as salmon oil) and DHA supplements are safe in doses up to a whopping three grams a day. Fish oil is one of the few non-essential nutrient supplements that are unquestionably healthy for you. Protect your heart with it, and now your memory.