Biomedical Updates


Omega-3s for Maintaining Healthier Brains

F innish researchers investigated the association between plasma phospholipid omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), objective biomarkers of exposure, and subclinical brain abnormalities using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).1 There was a reduction in silent brain infarcts and white matter changes in older men and women with higher levels of plasma phospholipid long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Silent infarcts—small brain lesions caused by lack of blood flow—are associated with a decrease in thinking skills and are estimated to affect approximately 20% of healthy older individuals.

The study involved 3,660 subjects, aged 65 and older who underwent MRI of theirs brain between 1992 and 1994. Of this group, 2,313 subjects had follow-up MRI exams after five years. Plasma samples collected from 1992 to 1993 were analyzed for phospholipid polyunsaturated fatty acid levels.

Subjects whose long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (EPA, DHA and DPA) levels were among the top 25% of participants were compared with those whose levels were among the lowest 25%. The top quadrant was found to have a 40% lower risk of subclinical infarct. Subjects whose long-chain omega-3 levels were highest also had fewer white matter changes in comparison with those in the lowest group.

White matter actively affects how the brain learns and functions. While grey matter is primarily associated with processing and cognition, white matter modulates the distribution of action potentials, acting as a relay and coordinating communication between different brain regions. High grade white matter makes for healthier brains.

Reference

  1. Virtanen JK, Siscovick DS, Lemaitre RN, Longstreth WT, Spiegelman D, Rimm EB, King IB, Mozaffarian D. Circulating omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and subclinical brain abnormalities on MRI in older adults: the Cardiovascular Health Study. J Am Heart Assoc. 2013 Oct 10;2(5):e000305. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.113.000305.

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