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Certain Fatty Acid May Cut Dementia Risk

Martha Clare Morris is an epidemiologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and author of an accompanying editorial in the journal. "This is the first study to link blood levels of DHA to protection against Alzheimer's disease," she said, adding that recent animal studies have shown that DHA reduces amyloid plaques -- a hallmark of Alzheimer's -- in the brain and also improves memory.

"There is a lot of animal and biochemical evidence to support what this new study shows," Morris said.

But, she said, she's not sure there is enough data to suggest the value of fish oil supplements. "It looks like the protective benefits from omega-3 fatty acids are at a very low level. There is very little evidence that you get better protection from higher intake," she said. "Whether fish oil supplements are protective is yet to be seen."

Another expert thinks clinical trials are needed to see if DHA really protects against Alzheimer's.

"This shows in a prospective study that DHA is the only plasma lipid to cut the risk for developing dementia a decade or more later," said Greg M. Cole, a neuroscientist at the Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare System and associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine.

This apparent protection is associated with eating fish, Cole said. "Other studies have pointed to fish intake as protective but have been far less clear that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish were the factor associated with risk reduction," he said. "This matters because if it is the fat, you could take fish oil supplements and avoid mercury contamination issues."

More information

The Alzheimer's Association can tell you more about Alzheimer's disease.

SOURCES: Ernst J. Schaefer, M.D., senior scientist and director, Lipid Metabolism Laboratory, Jean Mayer U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, Boston; Martha Clare Morris, Sc.D., epidemiologist, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago; Greg M. Cole, Ph.D., neuroscientist, Greater Los Angeles VA Healthcare System, and associate director, Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, Los Angeles; November 2006Archives of Neurology

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