Dementia Nutrition: Omega-3s
Have you noticed how often “Omega-3” appears on items at the grocery store: egg and milk cartons or in the supplement aisles? Yes, it’s there for marketing, but for a good reason. There are three main Omega-3 fatty acids: DHA and EPA (primarily in fatty fish like salmon and tuna) and ALA (found mostly in plant sources) that our body converts to DHA/EPA. Each are essential nutrients in our diet and important for cellular functioning.
Omega-3s are needed for brain development during pregnancy and early childhood. As we age, they maintain importance by providing neurons the ability to function properly, protect against DNA damaging oxidative stress and transportation of mood boosting neurotransmitters. Omega-3s have also been found to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and reduce both cellular and neuro-inflammation.
Due to the vital role of Omega-3s in brain health, they have been of interest in dementia research for a number of years. In support of Omega-3s, a high intake of fish and unsaturated fatty acids have been associated with reduced Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias risk. Interestingly, trials on efficacy of cognitive outcomes with Omega-3 dietary supplementation have shown discrepancy but a new pilot study in 2020 may have discovered why.
Arellanes, et al., found DHA and EPA levels can be significantly increased through supplementation of Omega-3s in the blood and central nervous system; however, increased levels of these fatty acids in the brain was limited. This was found to be especially true in people with the EPOE-4 gene that is linked to a higher risk factor for developing dementia. It is unknown if EPOE-4 carriers have lower uptake of EPA or if their brain consumes it more rapidly, but the important finding is that prior inconclusive studies may have not included adequate doses. Additionally, Omega-3 supplementation may require pairing with a B-complex to increase absorption. The findings of this recent study has led to the funding of an on-going larger trial that will follow 320 participants over 2 years to examine if higher doses of Omega-3s can slow cognitive decline in APOE-4 carriers.
In the meantime, Omega-3 supplements have still been found to support a number of health benefits, including better brain function in people with coronary artery disease. Since heart disease is an increased risk factor for dementia, it’s important to ensure Omega-3s are included in your diet. Great sources include:
Cold Water Fish: Mackerel, Salmon, Herring, Sardines, Anchovies
Cod Liver Oil, Oysters, Caviar
Flaxseeds, Chia Seeds, Walnuts, Soybeans
Fortified sources can also be found in a variety of products (eg. certain brands of eggs, dairy products and cereals). Omega-3 supplementation requires distinct dosing strategies. It’s important to consult a professional who is well informed on this topic to avoid any potential health risks. Get in touch to see if Omega-3 supplementation is right for you.
Do you have a favourite way of including Omega-3s into your diet? Share it with us below.
Dr. Romi Fung, ND, M.Sc and Alaina King, M.Sc
Dr. Romi Fung, ND, M.Sc is a Naturopathic Physician practicing in Richmond, BC with clinical interests in working with patients living with dementia. Dr. Romi has completed additional training in the Bredesen Protocol for treating cognitive impairment, as well as graduate studies in Aging and Health. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D in Aging and Health from Queen's University and is an Adjunct Clinic Faculty at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine - Boucher Campus.
Alaina has a MSc in Aging & Health and is the owner of Grey Matters Tx. A registered professional Recreation Therapist and Certified Dementia Practitioner, Alaina has been working with older adults with dementia since 1998. In addition to Recreation Therapy, Alaina has worked in Community Patient Care Coordination and as a Staff Educator and Health & Safety Auditor in Long Term Care.
Medical Disclaimer: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never disregard professional medical advice, or delay in seeking it, because of something you have read on this post.
Arellanes, I. C., et al. (2020). Brain delivery of supplemental docosahexaenoic acid (DHA): A randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. EBioMedicine, 59. DOI: 10.1016/j.ebiom.2020.102883
Gustafson, D. R., et al. (2020). Dietary fatty acids and risk of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias: Observations from the Washington Heights-Hamilton Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project (WHICAP). Alzheimer’s & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association. Retrieved from https://doi-org.proxy.queensu.ca/10.1002/alz.12154