Eating several servings of seafood (especially fish) weekly has beneficial health effects throughout life, and now research finds another benefit in older adults. Seafood contains both EPA and DHA, which are two types of omega-3 fatty acids. DHA or docosahexanoic acid has "neuroprotective qualities" and is found in both the gray and white matter of the brain. Higher DHA levels (measured in the blood) was associated with better memory, less brain atrophy (better brain volume), and fewer amyloid plaques (which are associated with Alzheimer's) in cognitively healthy older adults. From Medscape:
New research supports neuroprotectant effects of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in the aging brain. In a small cross-sectional study of cognitively healthy older adults, higher serum DHA levels were associated with less cerebral amyloidosis, better memory scores, and less regional brain atrophy.
"The interesting finding was the association of low serum DHA levels with cerebral amyloidosis (amyloid plaques) in older adults without evidence of dementia," Hussein N. Yassine, MD, Department of Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, told Medscape Medical News. "This association was predominantly driven by persons at the lowest quartile of serum DHA levels who likely have limited intake of seafood." "This study adds to the existing evidence on the benefit of seafood consumption on [Alzheimer's disease] AD risk factors," Dr Yassine added.
The study was published online August 8 in JAMA Neurology. In a linked editorial, Joseph F. Quinn, MD, Department of Neurology, Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, notes that DHA is "the most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid in the brain, playing an important structural role in synapses while also modulating a number of signaling pathways. "Brain DHA levels are also modulated by dietary intake, so it is plausible for dietary DHA to alter brain concentrations and affect downstream targets including brain pathology and function."
Dr Yassine and colleagues assessed serum DHA levels, measures of amyloid burden based on positron emission tomography with Pittsburgh compound B, brain volume, and neuropsychological test scores in 61 adults without dementia in the Aging Brain Study.
They found that serum DHA levels (percentage of total fatty acids) were 23% lower in those with cerebral amyloidosis relative to those without. Serum DHA levels were inversely correlated with brain amyloid load, independent of age, sex, years of education, and apolipoprotein E genotype. They also noted a positive correlation between serum DHA levels and brain volume in several subregions affected by AD, in particular the left subiculum and the left entorhinal volumes.
Clinically, there was a significant association between serum DHA levels and nonverbal memory. This association persisted after adjustment for age but not after adjustment for apolipoprotein E genotype. Serum DHA levels were not associated with measures of global cognition, executive function, or verbal memory scores.