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D.iet & H.ealth : G.eneral H.ealth Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Study: Omega fatty acids may slow mental decline in elderly
Nov 1, 2006, 17:50

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By Diana Simms

Using daily supplements of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids could slow down mental decline in elderly people, the results of a Japanese trial indicate, adding to a growing body of evidence that omega fatty acids augment memory in the elderly.

Regular intake of omega-3 fatty acid is associated with improvement in cognitive function, behavior and learning in patients with Alzheimer's disease, according to a recent study conducted by scientists from the Karolinska University Hospital Huddinge in Sweden and reported in the Archives of Neurology.

The current trial involved 21 patients at average age 68 with mild cognitive impairment among whom ten were diagnosed with so-called organic brain lesions while eight showed early signs of Alzheimer's disease.

In the trial, the participants were randomly assigned daily six capsules of placebo or supplements containing 40 mg/capsule of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA), and 0.16 mg/capsule of asthaxanthin (Suntory Ltd., Japan).

DHA and ARA are found naturally in breast milk, egg yolks and fatty fish such as salmon while asthaxanthin, a red pigment that is an antioxidant similar to beta-carotene, is found in the algae Haematococcus pluvialis.

For the study, researchers used repeatable battery to assess the mental function or neuropsychological status (RBANS) at the beginning of the trial and after three months of supplementation.

Lead author Susumu Kotani from the Japan Foundation for Aging and Health said that the patients who received the supplements showed enhanced immediate memory and attention RBANS scores. Immediate memory scores appeared to improve the greatest in patients diagnosed with organic brain lesions. The trial results were published in the October issue of the journal Neuroscience Research

"It is suggested from these data that ARA and DHA supplementation can improve the cognitive dysfunction due to organic brain damages or aging," said Kotani. However, no such improvements were found in the Alzheimer's patients or those taking a placebo.

Earlier studies have suggested that omega-6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid (ARA) levels in the brain decrease with aging, so supplementation might be the answer here. But it must be noted that there was no effect on patients diagnosed with early Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers said the effect may be specific to the omega oil involved. "It is likely that the improvement of cognitive functions after the ARA supplementation might be due to the improved membrane fluidity that can affect neurogenesis and/or synaptogenesis," they added.

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