The International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease, held this year in Paris, was the site of a presentation by Lori Daiello, PharmD of the finding of differences in brain structure between individuals who supplement with fish oil and those who do not. Fish oil contains the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which have been associated with improved cognitive function.
The current study included 819 participants in the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), which conducted periodic brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and memory testing on older adults with normal cognitive function, mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease over a three year period. Dr Daiello and her colleagues compared data obtained from 117 men and women who reported regular fish oil supplement use with data from 702 nonusers.
The team found greater brain volume and better cognitive function over follow-up in fish oil users who did not test positive for the APOE4 gene, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. “In the imaging analyses for the entire study population, we found a significant positive association between fish oil supplement use and average brain volumes in two critical areas utilized in memory and thinking (cerebral cortex and hippocampus), as well as smaller brain ventricular volumes compared to non-users at any given time in the study,” commented Dr Daiello, who is a research scientist at the Rhode Island Hospital Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center. “In other words, fish oil use was associated with less brain shrinkage in patients taking these supplements during the ADNI study compared to those who didn’t report using them.”
“These observations should motivate further study of the possible effects of long-term fish oil supplementation on important markers of cognitive decline and the potential influence of genetics on these outcomes,” she added.
“The association between fish oil supplements and brain structural differences between users and nonusers in all three groups is novel and deserves further investigation,” the authors conclude. “While a causal effect of fish oil supplements on these outcomes cannot be concluded from the results of this observational study, the findings suggest possible benefits of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on brain health and aging.”