The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 17 No. 7 • August 2014


FIGHTING THE BLAHS

DHA AND EPA—OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS WHICH INCREASE GRAY MATTER IN HUMAN BRAIN AREAS THAT REGULATE EMOTIONS

Decreases in the brain’s gray matter takes place in various areas during aging. These decreases are associated with cognitive decline. A 2007 paper1 reported the results of an examination via magnetic resonance imaging of gray matter volume in 55 middle aged male and female subjects (mean age = 44.7) and related the decreased gray matter to the dietary intake of long chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA). The subjects were divided into three groups based on long chain omega-3 intake: low 0-20 mg/day, n=16; medium (25–70 mg/day, n=21; and high 80-1600 mg/day, n=18.

The authors hypothesized that reduced gray matter volume in certain brain areas involved in regulating emotion might be causative factors in depression. They noted that (1) low levels of long chain omega-3 fatty acids are inversely associated with depressive behavior; (2) treatment of animals or humans that exhibit depressive behavior with long chain omega-3 fatty acids has been reported to have beneficial effects; and (3) reduced gray matter volume in nodes of corticolimbic brain circuitry observed in major depressive disorder may result from reduced neurogenesis and increased neuronal apoptosis that could result from the elevation in circulating glucocorticoids associated with depression.

Deficiency of long chain omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with increased circulating levels of glucocorticoids, which the authors attribute to HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary axis) hyperactivity.

The results showed that a higher intake of the long chain omega-3 fatty acids was associated with increased gray matter volume in the subgenual ACC (anterior cingulate cortex) and in an overlapping region of the right amygdala and right hippocampus, areas important for emotion arousal and regulation.

The authors cautioned that the study included only a small number of subjects and that the intake of EPA and DHA was estimated from dietary recall rather than actual measurements of blood fatty acid composition. Nevertheless, the data are consistent with animal studies in which DHA supplementation, for example, has been shown to increase neurite growth and c-Fos containing neurons (indicating neuronal activity) in the hippocampal CA1 field of the rat brain.

Reference

  1. Conklin, Gianaros, Brown, et al. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acid intake is associated positively with corticolimbic gray matter volume in healthy adults. Neurosci Lett. 421:209-12 (2007).

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