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Omega-3 Fatty Acid May Thwart Alzheimer's Disease

It's found in fish, eggs, certain meats, among other sources, study says

TUESDAY, April 17, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- A type of omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may help slow the growth of two kinds of brain lesions associated with Alzheimer's disease, a new study suggests.

The researchers at the University of California, Irvine, said their finding suggests that a diet rich in DHA -- found in fish, eggs, organ meats, micro-algae, fortified foods and food supplements -- may help prevent the development of Alzheimer's as people age.

In this study with genetically modified mice, the scientists found that DHA slowed accumulation of tau, a protein that leads to the development of neurofibrillary tangles, one of the two signature brain lesions of Alzheimer's.

The researchers also found that DHA reduced levels of the protein beta amyloid, which can clump in the brain and form plaques, another kind of lesion associated with Alzheimer's.

"We are greatly excited by these results, which show us that simple changes in diet can positively alter the way the brain works and lead to protection from Alzheimer's disease pathology," study co-author Frank LaFerla, professor of neurobiology and behavior, said in a prepared statement.

He and his colleagues also learned how DHA keeps beta amyloid in check. DHA reduces levels of presenilin, an enzyme that separates beta amyloid from its "parent," the amyloid precursor protein. Without presenilin, beta amyloid cannot be generated.

The study, published in the April 18 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, adds to growing evidence that diet and lifestyle changes may help people lower their risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, the researchers said.

"Combined with mental stimulation, exercise, other dietary intakes, and avoiding stress and smoking, we believe that people can significantly improve their odds against this disease," study lead author Kim Green said in a prepared statement.

The study was funded by Martek Biosciences Corp.

Alzheimer's is a neurodegenerative disease that affects more than 4.5 million adults in the United States. With an aging population, that number could approach 20 million by 2050. Five percent of people older than 65 have Alzheimer's, and up to one-half of people are affected by age 80.

More information

The Family Caregiver Alliance has more about Alzheimer's disease.

SOURCE: University of California, Irvine, news release, April 17, 2007
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