Researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) found that a diet high in docosahexenoic acid, or DHA--an omega-3 fatty acid found in relatively high concentrations in cold-water fish--dramatically slowed the progression of Alzheimer's disease in mice. Specifically, DHA cut the harmful brain plaques that mark the disease. The results appear in the March 23 online edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.
Senior author Greg M. Cole, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare System and UCLA, said that unlike many studies with mice, this one points to the benefits of a therapy that is easily available and already touted for other medical conditions. DHA--either from food sources such as fish and soy, or in fish-oil supplements--is recommended by many cardiologists for heart health, based on scores of previous studies.
"The good news from this study is that we can buy the therapy at a supermarket or drug store," said Cole. "DHA has a tremendous safety profile--essentially no side effects--and clinical trial evidence supports giving DHA supplements to people at risk for cardiovascular disease."
The new study involved older mice genetically altered to develop Alzheimer's disease. The researchers fed one group of the mice DHA-fortified chow. The control mice ate a normal or DHA-depleted diet.
After three to five months--the equivalent of several years in human biology--the high-DHA group had 70-percent less buildup of amyloid protein in the brain. This sticky protein makes up the plaques, or patches, that are a hallmark of Alzheimer's.
A similar study by Cole's group published in Neuron last fall showed that DHA protected against damage to the "synaptic" areas where brain cells communicate and enabled mice to perfor
Contact: Jim Blue
VA Research Communications Service