12 January - 20 June 2016

Omega 3 fatty acids: brain size and the prevention of fatty liver disease

29 Jan 14

Two studies, cited this week, have reported on the health benefits of omega 3 fatty acids. The first study by Pottala et al, published in Neurology investigated the association between the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the body and brain volume. The scientists used data from the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study Resonance Imaging (WHIMS-MRI), involving postmenopausal women. The data used was from 1111 women, aged around 70 years old, who had no signs of dementia at baseline.  Omega-3 fatty acids of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were measured in red blood cells at the start of the study.  Pottala et al then divided the women into four groups based on omega 3 levels with the women who had an average index reading of 7.5% being placed in the highest group and those with 3.4% in the lowest group.  Eight year after the blood tests, the scientists used MRI scans to measure the volume of grey and white matter in the participant’s brains. The women with the highest levels of EPA and DHA were found to have two cubic centimetre larger brains (0.7% larger) than those in the lowest omega-3 index group.  The hippocampus, a brain region which plays a part in memory was found to be 2.7% larger in women who had fatty acid levels twice as high as the average. Cognitive function was not measured so it cannot be concluded that the size differences they saw had any link with differences in memory or dementia risk.  Dr Harris, one of the researchers is quoted in Medscape, as saying that previous studies involving patients with fairly severe Alzheimer’s disease have found hippocampus volumes about 40% smaller than in people without dementia.   The paper states: “Changes in the omega-3 index that can be achieved through diet modification and/or supplementation are similar to those associated with 1 to 2 years of normal, age-related atrophy.”

 The second study, a mouse study, published in PLOS ONE which included scientists from Oregon State University, has investigated the metabolic effects of omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA on non alcoholic steatophepatitis (NASH) a progressive form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.  NASH is associated with a risk factor for cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma and liver failure. Previous studies by the researchers found that DHA may offer protective effects against western diet induced NASH in mice. In this study mice were fed one of five diets for 16 weeks.  The control diet was a chow consisting of 14% energy as fat and 58% as carbohydrate.  The western diet, consisting of 17% energy as protein, 43% energy as carbohydrate, 41% energy, was supplemented with either olive oil, EPA, DHA, or EPA and DHA.  Supplementing the diet increased total fat energy to 45%, energy as protein to 16% and energy as carbohydrate to 40%.   The scientists then analysed for 320 metabolites in the liver.  Supplementation of DHA used at levels which are sometimes prescribed to reduce blood triglycerides (equal about 2-4 grams per day for an average person), were found to change vitamin and carbohydrate metabolism, protein and amino acid function, and lipid metabolism.  DHA partially or totally prevented metabolic damage through these pathways.

RSSL's Lipids Laboratory, part of the Investigative Analysis Team has expertise in all aspects of fat analysis and fatty acid profiling, including the determination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. For more information please contact Customer Services on Freephone 0800 243482 or email enquiries@rssl.com

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