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No effects of omega‑3 supplements on Alzheimer’s symptoms

The L.A. Times reports today the neg­a­tive results of the lat­est ran­dom­ized tri­al test­ing the effects of DHA sup­ple­ments on Alzheimer’s symp­toms (DHA is an omega‑3 fat­ty acid).

The study … exam­ined 402 peo­ple with mild to mod­er­ate Alzheimer’s. They were ran­dom­ly assigned to take 2 grams a day of omega‑3 cap­sules con­tain­ing docosa­hexaenoic acid (or DHA) or a place­bo cap­sule. The par­tic­i­pants were fol­lowed for 18 months, and their cog­ni­tive and func­tion­al abil­i­ties were reassessed. They also under­went MRI to look at the brain.

There was no ben­e­fit seen in the patients tak­ing omega‑3 fat­ty-acid sup­ple­ments in either brain vol­ume or cog­ni­tive func­tion.

Com­ments: Does this study mean that DHA or omega‑3 in gen­er­al are not good for the brain? No! This study sug­gests that tak­ing DHA sup­ple­ments after Alzheimer’s diag­no­sis is not help­ful. Pri­or evi­dence shows that omega‑3 con­sump­tion (espe­cial­ly DHA) long before the onset of Alzheimer’s symp­toms reduces the risk of devel­op­ing the dis­ease. Indeed, sev­er­al stud­ies have shown that eat­ing fish (the pri­ma­ry source in our diet of omega‑3 fat­ty acids) is asso­ci­at­ed with a reduced risk of cog­ni­tive decline or demen­tia.

The authors of the JAMA study also spec­u­late that DHA sup­ple­ments could be used as a treat­ment for peo­ple who have not yet been diag­nosed with Alzheimer’s but are already devel­op­ing demen­tia pathol­o­gy in their brain: “Indi­vid­u­als inter­me­di­ate between healthy aging and demen­tia, such as those with mild cog­ni­tive impair­ment, might derive ben­e­fit from DHA sup­ple­men­ta­tion, although fur­ther study will be nec­es­sary to test this hypoth­e­sis.” 

Western’ Style Diet Increases Risk of ADHD

I recent­ly report­ed on an intrigu­ing study exam­in­ing the impact of an herbal treat­ment for youth with ADHD. Results from this ran­dom­ized-con­trolled tri­al were quite promis­ing and con­sis­tent with the idea that some indi­vid­u­als with ADHD have defi­cien­cies in essen­tial nutri­ents that com­pro­mise healthy brain devel­op­ment and result in ADHD symp­toms. This idea has sparked the long-stand­ing debate about whether dietary fac­tors play an impor­tant role in the devel­op­ment of ADHD, at least for some chil­dren, and led to many stud­ies of this issue.
Although results of these stud­ies elude any sim­ple con­clu­sions, dietary fac­tors do appear to con­tribute to ADHD symp­toms in some indi­vid­u­als.

Some have argued that research on the rela­tion­ship between diet and ADHD is more impor­tant than ever because the diets of chil­dren in West­ern coun­tries have shown steady increas­es in the amounts of heav­i­ly processed foods rich in sat­u­rat­ed fats, salt, and sug­ars accom­pa­nied by decreas­es in omega‑3 fat­ty acids, fiber, and folate. Is it pos­si­ble that such ‘West­ern’ style diets are asso­ci­at­ed with an increased risk of ADHD, and per­haps a con­tribut­ing fac­tor to the high preva­lence of the dis­or­der?

This impor­tant ques­tion was exam­ined in a study pub­lished recent­ly online in the Jour­nal of Atten­tion Dis­or­ders [Howard et. al. (2010). ADHD is asso­ci­at­ed with a “West­ern” dietary pat­tern in ado­les­cents. Jour­nal of Atten­tion Dis­or­ders]. Par­tic­i­pants were 1172 14 year-old Aus­tralian ado­les­cents and their par­ents who had been recruit­ed into the study and fol­lowed since the moth­ers were between 16 and 20 weeks preg­nant. Read the rest of this entry »

Hourglass #3: the biology of aging

Wel­come to the third edi­tion of Hour­glass, the month­ly vir­tu­al gath­er­ing of blog­gers to Hourglassdis­cuss the Biol­o­gy of Aging.

For today’s edi­tion, let’s imag­ine all par­tic­i­pants sit­ting around a table lead­ing a live­ly Ques­tions & Answers ses­sion, dis­cussing as a group, lis­ten­ing, talk­ing. (And, well, aging.)

Q: What is aging?
Ms. Wikipedia: “Age­ing or aging (Amer­i­can Eng­lish) is the accu­mu­la­tion of changes in an organ­ism or object over time. Age­ing in humans refers to a mul­ti­di­men­sion­al process of phys­i­cal, psy­cho­log­i­cal, and social change. Some dimen­sions of age­ing grow and expand over time, while oth­ers decline. Reac­tion time, for exam­ple, may slow with age, while knowl­edge of world events and wis­dom may expand.”

Aging may not be the sex­i­est  of words in our vocab­u­lary. Unless, of course (as I heard some­where recent­ly but can’t prop­er­ly cred­it), you con­sid­er the most com­mon alter­na­tive.

Q: If the objec­tive of anti-aging research is to extend lifes­pan, isn’t there a risk that we may neglect qual­i­ty of life. After all, would peo­ple real­ly like to spend more years afflict­ed by the dis­eases and the decline that often come with age?
Ed (dragged to the dis­cus­sion by Chris and Alvaro): I have rel­a­tive­ly good news to share. A recent Uni­ver­si­ty of South­ern Den­mark found that the pro­por­tion of elder­ly Danes who man­age to remain inde­pen­dent holds steady at Read the rest of this entry »

Can food improve brain health?

In oth­er words, may some foods be specif­i­cal­ly good for brain func­tion?

For a great in-depth review of the effects of food on the brain you can check out Fer­nan­do Gomez-Pinil­la’s recent arti­cle in Nature Reviews Neu­ro­science (ref­er­ence below). Here is an overview of the state off the research.

Sev­er­al com­po­nents of diet seem to have a pos­i­tive effect on brain func­tion.

Omega‑3 fat­ty acids

These acids are nor­mal con­stituents of cell mem­branes and are essen­tial for nor­mal brain func­tion. Omega‑3 fat­ty acids can be found in fish (salmon), kiwi, and wal­nuts. Docosa­hexaenoic acid, or DHA, is the most abun­dant omega‑3 fat­ty acid in cell mem­branes in the brain. The human body pro­duces DHA but not enough. So we are depen­dent on the DHA that we get from what we eat.

A ran­dom­ized dou­ble-blind con­trolled tri­al (which means seri­ous­ly con­duct­ed sci­en­tif­ic study) is cur­rent­ly look­ing at the effect of tak­ing omega‑3 fat­ty acids on chil­dren’s per­for­mance at school in Eng­land. Pre­lim­i­nary results (Port­wood, 2006) sug­gest that Read the rest of this entry »

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