Omega-3 and B vitamins arrest Alzheimer’s brain shrinkage
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s. Brain shrinkage, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s, starts for many from the age of 50. But can it be prevented? Researchers at Oxford University gave 168 people over 70 with the first signs of memory loss either high dose B vitamins or dummy pills and monitored shrinkage with advanced brain scans over a two year period.
They found that those taking the extra B vitamins who started with high omega-3 levels in their blood had 70% less brain shrinkage, reaching about the same degree of shrinkage as is normally found in healthy elderly people with no memory decline. The results were reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this week (Jerneren et al.)
The least brain shrinkage in those treated with B vitamins occurred in those with both high omega-3 blood levels, an essential fat found in oily fish, and high blood levels of homocysteine at the start of the study, indicating a poor B vitamin status, especially B12. About half of people 65+ have raised blood homocysteine levels, indicating that older people need to be supplementing B vitamins. A third of the people in this study, from the Oxford area, had low levels of omega-3 and no beneficial effect from the B vitamins. It was the combination of omega-3 and B vitamins that made the difference.
This study suggests that at least one third of the British population could significantly reduce their risk of developing Alzheimer’s simply by taking in enough omega-3 fats and supplementing B vitamins.
“This is a very encouraging result.” said Professor David Smith from Oxford University who research group led the study “It means that something so simple as keeping your omega-3 levels high and supplementing B vitamins if you are at risk (with a high homocysteine level) could dramatically reduce a person’s risk. We should be screening people for the early signs of cognitive impairment and then testing their homocysteine and omega-3 status.”
In Sweden people over age 60 in memory clinics are routinely screened for homocysteine, in much the way GPs screen for cholesterol in the UK. Those with high levels are prescribed B vitamins.
“This study adds to a growing body of evidence that Alzheimer’s is largely a preventable disease. At least half the risk for Alzheimer’s is preventable, while only 1% of cases are caused by genes. We should be educating people about prevention steps and screening early for the first signs of cognitive changes.” says nutritionist Patrick Holford, from the UK’s charitable Food for the Brain Foundation which has campaigned for Alzheimer’s prevention to be taken seriously. “Less than 0.1% of UK dementia research funding is spent on prevention. It should be 50%.”
Food for the Brain offers a free Cognitive Function Test online at www.foodforthebrain.org. Two hundred thousand people have now taken the test, which not only gives the earliest indication of your memory status but tells you what to do about it. Increasing omegas from fish, nuts and seeds and testing for homocysteine, and supplementing B vitamins if needed, are two of six prevention steps. Others include eating more fruit and veg, keeping fit and socially active. The best foods for omega-3 are oily fish such as mackerel, salmon and sardines, walnuts, chia and flax seeds.
The charity hopes to reach a million people, and have just launched an educational video called ‘Alzheimer’s prevention is better than drugs’ (see below) to encourage those at risk to take positive steps to prevent this terrible disease.
20th April 2015
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