Animal studies show omega-3 suppementation has the potential to combat Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia, a typical finding in which is the deposition of a protein known as amyloid-ß in the brain. Loss of brain cells is a common feature too. One natural agent that has shown some promise in combating Alzheimer’s disease is fish oil. Fish oil is rich in two main fats: EPA and DHA. EPA seems to be important for the day-to-day functioning of the brain, while DHA seems to be more a ‘building block’ of the brain. There is some evidence that supplementing with these so-called ‘omega-3’ fats can improve brain function in those with ‘mild cognitive impairment’.

However, work in individuals with moderate or severe Alzheimer’s disease has not found omega-3 supplementation to be of benefit. It’s possible that such an approach will never work. But it’s also possible that negative results were achieved because, say, the dosage of omega-3 used in these studies was not high enough or supplementation did not go on long enough.

One way of overcoming this last problem, at least to some degree, is to study animals. Animals are not humans, and the results of studies in them cannot be directly extrapolated to us. But, animals do give researchers the opportunity to closely control treatments, and can generally treat for much longer periods than would be practical in humans.

In a recent review [1], researchers assessed the evidence in which animals (rats and mice) with animal models of Alzheimer’s disease had been treated with omega-3 fats for at least 10 per cent of their life spans. Long term treatment with omega-3 was found, overall, to:

• Reduce amyloid-ß deposition

• Improve cognitive function

• Reduce brain cell loss

In other words, in animals, omega-3 supplementation was found to combat key underlying processes in Alzheimer’s disease and improve brain functioning too. This is not enough to prove that long-term supplementation with omega-3 would help prevent or ameliorate Alzheimer’s disease in humans. It is enough for me, personally, to make me think that keeping up a good intake of omega-3 fats is likely to be a decent insurance against declining mental function as I age.


1. Hooijmans CR, et al. The Effects of Long-Term Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation on Cognition and Alzheimer’s Pathology in Animal Models of Alzheimer’s Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. J Alzheimers Dis. 2011 Oct 14. [Epub ahead of print]

10 Responses to Animal studies show omega-3 suppementation has the potential to combat Alzheimer’s disease

  1. Andrew J 3 November 2011 at 7:44 pm #

    Very interesing information.
    Dr Briffa, is there an dosage you recommend of EPA and DHA? And what about a EPA:DHA ratio?
    Or, if you prefer not to make a recommendation, could you please tell us what dosage YOU take?
    I feel that Omega3 helped a lot with some issues I was having (depression, insomnia, brain ‘fuzziness’ etc). A couple of months ago I started taking 3000 mg of EPA and 1500 mg of DHA per day and have felt a lot better. I have no idea if that is a good ratio – but I certainly feel that the additional Omega3 oils help me.

  2. Chris 4 November 2011 at 5:41 am #

    Was it the Lyon Heart Study that historically contributed significant interest in the beneficial properties of omega-3 EFAs that has been a feature of medical science since? And at the same time, while acknowledging the benefits of omega-3 EFAs, did the Lyon Heart Study also cast aspersions upon the possible ‘benefits’ of adhering to a diet or dietary regime that contributed a surplus or excess content of omega-6 EFAs?

    While EFAs are ‘essential’, that is we can’t synthesise them and must therefore source them from diet, it seems it is possible to overdose on them in the same way it is possible (though rare) to overdose on water. Something that stemmed from the Lyon Heart Study was consideration that the modern diet may have trended to be be deficient in omega-3s while offering a surplus of omega-6 EFAs.

  3. Kevin eakins 4 November 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    Whenever studies regarding unsaturated are quoted I worry because these essential nutrients are so fragile and easy to damage. I suspect that the manufacturing methods in producing supplements may cause them to do more harm than good. Also the way they are stored and how long they have been in the supply chain before consumption. I have been told about studies which show that plant based omega 3 supplmentation is associated with higher levels of prostate cancer. I wonder whether this might have more to do with how oxidized/interfered with the omega 3 fats that are consumed rather than the fats themselves. I know that you are referring here to fish oil fats but the same reservation applies: we must ensure that they are eaten as fresh and unspoiled as possible. I am not sure that using supplements meets this criteria.

  4. Yvonne 4 November 2011 at 8:56 pm #

    Interesting, but what dosage of Omega 3 supplements is recommended please?
    Many thanks

  5. Valerie H 4 November 2011 at 10:10 pm #

    I have heard 2 podcasts on Jimmy Moore’s show talk about coconut oil being beneficial for Alzheimers. I find it surprising that the effects are from a moderate amount of coconut oil in the daily diet; about 2-3 tablespoons per day.

  6. Florence 5 November 2011 at 1:59 am #
    I found this really interesting and have long held the view that it is not so much that we aren’t getting enough Omega 3, rather, we are overdosing on Omega 6. I avoid the use of vegetable oils, seed and nut oils for this very reason.

  7. Cordier 5 November 2011 at 3:14 pm #

    One of the latest meta analysis fortunately denies the link between alpha linolenic acid(omega-3 precursor) and prostate cancer risk:
    This indispensable precursor is, among others,very helpful regarding coronary diseases,prevention of ventricular arrythmias and obesity.I personally take virgin linseed oil(the richest in alphaLA 50%)one tablespoon daily.There are also other oils and some foods(Grenoble walnut,watercress,purslane…)containing this precious fatty acid.

  8. Richard 5 November 2011 at 11:24 pm #

    I have heard that mackerel, sardines and herring are preferable to farmed salmon. This is apparently because farmed salmon is very high in EPA with little DHA, whereas mackerel etc is really high in DHA with some EPA. Apparently not much DHA is absorbed when in the presence of large amounts of EPA. I have been taking fish oil sourced from these smaller oily fish for tendonitis and it seems to work well for that.

    I wonder if the individuals can digest fish oil effectively? My GP tells me that some people that have undergone chemotherapy can have trouble digesting oily fish and nuts.

    Also mackerel, sardines and herring are also rich in phosphatidylserine (important for brain health).

  9. Chris 8 November 2011 at 12:20 am #

    I was re-reading Dr Kilmer McCully’s ‘The Homocysteine Revolution’ for, amongst other reasons, what Dr McCully has to say about the historical events contributing to the rise of the (apocryphal) cholesterol hypothesis.

    Dr McCully does not make reference to Alzheimers disease but something about the text tweaked my curiosity if salient aspects of his homocysteine hypothesis as applies to the advance of heart disease might have applicability in relation to Alzheimers.

    Salient aspects of the homocysteine theory as applies to heart disease is that levels of homocysteine may rise as a by-product of normal protein metabolism in the face of B complex vitamin deficiencies. One of the amino acids present in many proteins, methionine, is metabolised and converted to homocysteine – and the absence or deficiency of B6, B12, and folate, or folic acid, subsequently impedes management and process of the homocysteine. (I’m emphasisno medic and that’s my sketchiest thumbnail view, btw!)

    Interestingly a cursory search returned results that mention homocysteine in the context of the advance of Alzheimers. Likewise mention of B complex vitamin deficiencies in association with some patients diagnosed with Alzheimers are also returned. In relation to Alzheimers and B complex deficiencies the emphasis seems to major on B12.

    It is interesting that theories surrounding the etiology of both Alzheimers disease and the advance of heart disease have striking elements that they share in common. And in each case, as you direct in the case of Alzheimers, we are directed, or there are grounds for thinking that omega-3 may offer some insurance or protection. Likewise we might have grounds to suspect the significant shift towards dietary inclusion of oils rich in omega-6 EFAs, largely off the back of process possibilities arising in the industrial age, may have some involvement in the advance of each disease.

  10. Amalie Everett 9 November 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    Has there been any suggestion of CerefolinNAC? The ingredients in this medication help with elevated homocysteine and is indicated for persons with MCI.

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