advertisement



Q & A Library


Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Q
Fish Oil for Bigger Brains?

Can you give me any information about a study showing that taking fish oil supplements can maintain brain volume and prevent Alzheimer's? How much fish oil do you need to take to get this effect?

A
Answer (Published 3/28/2014)

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients needed to maintain mental and physical health. We know that one of them, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), supports heart health while the other one, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is a constituent of membranes of nerve cells in the brain and is thought to play an important role in normal brain development and function. Research indicates omega-3s reduce inflammation, and may in turn help reduce the risk and symptoms of a variety of disorders influenced by inflammation, including heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor for Supplements & Herbs - If you are interested in supplementing your diet, and want to take the mystery out of choosing vitamins, try Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor. Visit today for your free, personalized Dr. Weil's Vitamin Advisor Recommendation.

The study you refer to comes from the University of South Dakota. It examined the effect of omega-3 blood levels on brain volume in 1,111 older women who were enrolled in a nationwide memory study. We know that with increasing age the brain normally shrinks. The researchers wanted to know whether or not omega-3s affect that inevitable change. They first tested all the women for omega-3 levels in red blood cells. Then, eight years later, when the average age of the women was 78, they all had MRIs to measure brain volume. Results showed that the women who had high blood levels of omega-3s when they joined the study had larger total brain volume than women whose blood levels of omega-3s were low. The difference adds up to a one- to two-year delay in the normal loss of brain cells that comes with age, according to study author James Pottala, Ph.D. The MRIs also showed that the hippocampus, the area of the brain where information is temporarily stored before transfer to the cerebral cortex, was larger in the women whose omega-3 levels were high. With Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus begins to shrink even before symptoms appear.

This study wasn’t designed to determine whether or not consumption of omega-3s prevents Alzheimer’s disease. And because it was observational, it doesn’t necessarily prove that the higher omega-3 levels were responsible for the larger brain volume seen in some of the women. More research is needed to investigate the link, if any, and determine how much fish oil is needed to produce the kind of results seen in this study, the researchers said.

You can get omega-3s by eating oily, wild caught, cold water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, sablefish (black cod), and mackerel two to three times a week. If you opt for fish oil supplements, look for products providing 700 to 1,000 mg of EPA and 200 to 500 mg of DHA in the smallest number of capsules. If you use liquid fish oil, find one that gives you these amounts in the fewest teaspoons. Pregnant women in particular should consider taking fish oil supplements because adequate supplies of omega-3s are crucial to optimal brain and nervous system development in the fetus. When choosing a supplement, look for one derived from molecularly distilled fish oils, which are more likely to contain adequate levels of both EPA and DHA and be free of contaminants.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Source:
James V. Pottala et al, "Higher RBC EPA + DHA corresponds with larger total brain and hippocampal volumes: WHIMS-MRI Study." Neurology, January 24, 2014

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle, LLC on DrWeil.com (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being
in just eight weeks!
Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!
 

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe
Wellness Guide

Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet Food Pyramid
Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you
and their corresponding answers
from Dr. Weil.

 
Copyright © 2014 Weil Lifestyle, LLC
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here