STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Omega-3 fatty acid may hold the key to staving off the memory-robbing effects of Alzheimer’s disease for millions of people. A new study reveals Alzheimer’s patients taking daily omega-3 supplements saw their performance in memory tests remain steady in comparison to other patients not consuming this nutrient.

Researchers from the Karolinska Institute, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, and Uppsala University examined 33 people with mild to moderate symptoms of Alzheimer’s. From that group, 18 took omega-3 supplements in the morning and evening while the other 15 did not and served as a control group.

Study authors took spinal fluid samples, which can contain biomarkers of the disease, and also gave the participants a memory test at the start of the study and six months later. Although the fluid samples didn’t show a significant change, the group’s performance in memory tests was telling.

“We can see that the memory function of the patients in the group that had taken omega-3 is stable, whereas the patients in the control group have deteriorated. That’s what the memory tests show,” says Yvonne Freund-Levi, a researcher in neuroscience at Örebro University, in a media release. “But we can’t see any differences between the groups when we look at the various biomarkers in the spinal fluid samples.”

Study authors did find some biological differences within the group taking omega-3 fatty acids. Two markers with a link to damaged nerve cells increased after six months of taking daily supplements. However, the team notes these markers have no direct connection to memory performance.

“Even if this data isn’t enough for us to change our recommendations to patients at this time, it is an interesting material for researchers to build on.”

More evidence fish oil is good for the brain

The study builds on a larger review of 200 patients dealing with Alzheimer’s disease which Freund-Levi conducted 15 years ago. That study discovered omega-3 transfers from supplements to the brain after ingestion.

“We are cautious about giving recommendations, but we know that starting early is by far the best thing – it is difficult to influence the disease at a later stage. The best piece of advice we have to offer at the moment is to be physically active and to include omega-3 in your diet – in the form of oily fish or as supplements. We can see a difference in the results of the memory tests. Patients who were taking omega-3 supplements at an early stage of the disease scored better,” Freund-Levi adds.

The study appears in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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