Go Fish! Study Connects Omega-3s to Brain Health Improvement at Midlife

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Consuming cold-water fish and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids could preserve brain health and enhance cognition in middle age, according to a recent study led by researchers at UT Health San Antonio and the Framingham Heart Study.

“Our results, albeit exploratory, suggest that higher omega-3 fatty acid concentrations are related to better brain structure and cognitive function in a predominantly middle-aged cohort free of clinical dementia,” according to the study.

What Are Omega-3s?

Omega-3s are a family of essential fatty acids that play an important role in the human body.

“Although evidence is mixed, studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids can protect against all sorts of illnesses, including breast cancer, depression, ADHD, and various inflammatory diseases,” according to Healthline.

But your body can’t produce omega-3s on its own.

You have to get them from your diet, such as fatty fish, fish oils, flax seeds, chia seeds, flaxseed oil, and walnuts.

“If you don’t eat fish or other food sources of omega-3s, consider taking supplements. These are both cheap and effective,” according to Healthline.

About the New Study on Omega-3s

To determine the impact of dietary omega-3s in middle-aged adults, UT Health San Antonio researchers examined 2,183 dementia-free and stroke-free participants with an average age of 46.

They analyzed the relation of red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid concentrations with MRI and cognitive markers of brain aging. Researchers used a technique called gas chromatography to measure docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) concentrations from red blood cells. The omega-3 index was calculated as DHA plus EPA.

Participants were divided into those who had very little omega-3 red blood cell concentration and those who had at least a little and more.

Having at least some omega-3s in red blood cells was associated with better brain structure and cognitive function among healthy study volunteers in their 40s and 50s.

Outcomes were worse for participants who ate low levels of omega-3s, said Dr. Claudia Satizabal, lead study author and assistant professor with the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio.

“Studies have looked at this association in older populations. The new contribution here is that, even at younger ages, if you have a diet that includes some omega-3 fatty acids, you are already protecting your brain for most of the indicators of brain aging that we see at middle age,” Satizabal said.

More Benefits of Omega-3 Consumption

The UT Health San Antonio study also shared these key findings:

  • Higher omega-3 index was associated with larger hippocampal volumes. The hippocampus, a structure in the brain, plays a major role in learning and memory.
  • Consuming more omega-3s was associated with better abstract reasoning, or the ability to understand complex concepts using logical thinking.
  • APOE4 carriers with a higher omega-3 index had less small-vessel disease. The APOE4 gene is associated with cardiovascular disease and vascular dementia.

“Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA are key micronutrients that enhance and protect the brain,” said Debora Melo van Lent, PhD, study coauthor and postdoctoral research fellow at the Biggs Institute. “Our study is one of the first to observe this effect in a younger population. More studies in this age group are needed.”

Researchers are still working to determine how DHA and EPA protect the brain.

“It’s complex. We don’t understand everything yet, but we show that, somehow, if you increase your consumption of omega-3s even by a little bit, you are protecting your brain,” Satizabal said.

Latinos and Brain Health

Brain health is important for Latinos because, by 2030, 40% of Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. will be Latino or Black, according to data from Us Against Alzheimer’s.

Latinos are 1.5 times as likely as their white peers to be diagnosed.

“Latinos are also at risk for Alzheimer’s because of medical conditions that are considered risk factors for developing Alzheimer’s – like high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease – which are all prevalent among older Latinos,” according to a Salud America! resource.

Senior woman exercising mind

Recent research has shown several ways for Latinos to improve and take care of their brain health!

Even something as small as physical activity through dancing could help Latinos improve working memory.

“To understand and address these disparities, greater attention must be paid to the role of the social determinants of health like income inequality, housing and food security, and educational opportunity,” according to a Salud America! resource.

The Need for Latino Participants in Clinical Trials 

This study on brain health an example of how a clinical trial can help Latinos.

Clinical trials help researchers learn more to help slow, manage, and treat diseases and health issues like Alzheimer’s and other neurocognitive disorders.

Dr. Amelie Ramirez, director of Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio, is creating new ways for Latinos to volunteer for clinical trials thanks to a grant from Genentech, a member of the Roche Group.

On her Salud America! website, Ramirez is showcasing open clinical trials:

Donating biospecimens or “samples” like tissue and fluids are often the source of new ways to prevent, diagnose, or treat cancer and other diseases. Biospecimens are especially needed from Latinos, who suffer health disparities.

Learn more about biospecimen donation at the National Cancer Institute’s Biorepositories and Biospecimen Research Branch. E-mail them at ncibbrb@nih.gov.

If you are in San Antonio or Miami, you can participate in the Avanzando Caminos study!

For more information, contact Fernando Juarez, project coordinator on Dr. Amelie Ramirez’s team at the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio, at 210-562-6514 or caminos@uthscsa.edu. Volunteers are eligible for $50 per visit!

The REACH Clinical Trial at the Biggs Institute at UT Health San Antonio evaluates the use of Rapamycin to slow progression of amnestic mild cognitive impairment and early-stage Alzheimer’s.

With Latinos being 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s, participating in clinical trials can make a big difference!

For more information or to join the REACH trial by calling 210-567-8229 (English) or 210-450-8073 (Spanish). REACH Clinical Trial volunteers will be reimbursed up to $100 for each trial visit.

As we know, Latinos have a higher risk of being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Therefore, diversity in clinical trials is critical!

Latinos age 55-80 can participate in the AHEAD Clinical Trial that aims to protect against the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, led by the experts at the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio.

You can join the AHEAD Clinical Trial by calling 210-567-8229 (English) or 210-450-8073 (Spanish)! Volunteers will be reimbursed up to $50 for each trial visit.

Researchers at the Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s & Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio are looking to answer how COVID-19 impacts brain health and need your help.

Volunteers are needed ages 45 to 80 and will participate by completing two visits in which they’ll receive an advanced state-of-the-art MRI scan to compare brain imaging of those recovered from COVID-19 to those who have never tested positive for the infection.

To volunteer for the 7T MRI Study, contact Vibhuti Patel (210-450-7186), Erin Pollet (210-450-8219), or Monica Goss (210-450-8073) weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Researchers at the University of California San Francisco first created the Brain Health Registry in 2014, with the goal of registering over 100,000 participants. Now, in a partnership with UT Health San Antonio, STOP-AD Brain Health Registry was created.

The STOP-AD Brain Health Registry explores how Alzheimer’s is affecting Latinos, and how clinical trials can help us tackle Alzheimer’s and other dementias!

Participants are asked to enter contact information, demographics, health questionnaires, and online tests of memory and thinking that are similar to computer games. The information entered is secure and privacy protected.

Brain Health Registry also recently launched a Spanish-language site to reach more Latinos.

For questions and additional information, contact: info@brainhealthregistry.org

JOIN THE BRAIN HEALTH REGISTRY!

Ramirez is also leading awareness-raising social media events, webinars, and uplifting the stories of Latino clinical trial participants, like Leonel Rodriguez.

Visit the Salud America! clinical trials page to learn more about volunteer opportunities and how you and your familia can participate.

FIND A CLINICAL TRIAL!

 

 

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