There is now more tantalizing evidence that taking fish oil supplements can keep your brain supple for a longer time.
In a study presented at the 2011 International Conference on Alzheimer’s disease in Paris, investigators showed that people who used fish oil supplements enjoyed better cognitive functioning over the course of the three-year study than those who didn’t. They also had less reduction in brain volume over time. However, these associations only occurred among people with normal baseline cognitive function who did not carry the gene ApoE4, a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
Researchers gathered information from a variety of sources, including cognitive testing and magnetic resonance imaging, in people who entered the study. The subjects included people without any cognitive impairment and those with mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. Mild cognitive impairment is believed to occur before dementia sets in.
The study revealed that use of fish oil supplements was linked to better cognitive function, particularly as time went on. However, this was only true, in the final analysis, in those who did not carry the ApoE4 gene or who had normal cognitive function at baseline.
Intriguingly, the investigators also found that use of fish oil supplements is associated with higher volumes of some parts of the brain, including the cerebral cortex, which is where the higher cognitive functions are performed. But again, this was only true in those who did not carry the ApoE4 gene.
The researchers also examined the results according to whether the subjects had normal cognitive function at baseline, mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s. They found that members of all three groups had higher brain volumes over time, something that had never been found before. Even individuals with Alzheimer’s experienced an increase in volume of the hippocampus, which is involved in short- and long-term memory.
“My personal bias is that supplementation of any type that might potentially delay cognitive decline or help prevent Alzheimer’s disease probably needs to take place years before people would start to show symptoms,” lead investigator Lori Daiello, Pharm.D, told BetterBrainBetterLife.com. “And the fact that we only saw positive effects in people who don’t carry the ApoE4 gene suggests that people who do carry the gene may have more advanced changes in their brains at the time that they started taking the fish oil. So perhaps they would have had to start supplementation years earlier for it to have had an effect.”
Daiello believes it would be useful to do longer-term studies of the effects of fish oil supplementation on cognitive decline.