Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may slow cognitive decline in some patients with very mild Alzheimer's disease, according to new findings from Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Sweden. However, the positive affect of Omega-3 do not appear in cases with more advanced Alzheimer's. This is the first clinical trial ever made in the field and the result is published in the October issue of Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.
Alzheimer's disease is a severely debilitating condition that affects thinking, learning and memory, beginning with declines in episodic memory. Medications are available to treat the symptoms, but these drugs do not affect the underlying cause and progression of the disease. Several studies have shown that eating fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, may protect against Alzheimer's disease, leading researchers to question whether supplements could have similar effects.
Dr Yvonne Freund-Levi and colleagues at KI in Stockholm and Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden, compared the effects of supplements containing two omega-3 fatty acids with placebo in 204 patients with Alzheimer's disease, by which 174 completed the entire study. For six months, 89 patients (51 women and 38 men) took 1.7 grams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and .6 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), while 85 patients (39 women and 46 men) took placebo. For an additional six months, both groups took the omega-3 fatty acids. Patients had physical examinations, which included blood tests and blood pressure measurement, and took cognitive tests at the beginning of the study and at the six- and 12-month marks.
After six months, there was no difference in the rate of cognitive decline between the two groups. However, among a subgroup of 32 patients with very mild cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study, those who took the fatty acids experienced less decline in six months compared with those who took placebo. Among those who took placebo during the first six months, decline decreased during the second six months, when they also began taking the omega-3 supplements. The supplements appeared safe and well-tolerated, with no change in blood pressure or blood test results other than a higher ratio of fatty acids in the blood.
"These findings cannot serve as a basis for general recommendations for treatment of Alzheimer's disease with dietary DHA-rich fish oil preparations", says professor Jan Palmblad. "Studies in larger cohorts with mild cognitive impairment, including those at risk for Alzheimer's disease, are needed to further explore the possibility that omega-3 fatty acids might be beneficial in halting initial progression of the disease."
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