DHA is a fatty acid found in high concentrations in some fish. Together with other fish-derived oils, DHA is believed to help slow the rate of cognitive decline in people with mild impairment, but it has never been studied on its own.
As the world’s population continues to age, health issues related to aging bodies and brains are becoming more common. Many population-based studies have noted the association between lower DHA levels and cognitive decline in healthy people and those with Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the new study was led by doctors at Martek Biosciences Corporation, the company that manufactures the algal DHA supplement used in this study. A total of 437 people aged 55 or older with age-related cognitive decline completed the 24-week study. Half of them were given 900 mg per day of DHA from the algae, Schizochytrium sp.; the rest were given a matching placebo.
Tests were given before and after the supplementation period to measure memory, learning, attention, problem solving, and skills involved with decision making and abstract thinking (executive function skills).
Anti-aging for the brain
The ability to recollect past experiences (episodic memory) and learning in the DHA group significantly improved. People with lower scores at the study outset seemed to benefit the most, as did those with a family history of dementia and those taking cholesterol-lowering medications, “suggesting that potential genetic and cardiovascular factors may influence the effects of DHA on cognition,” the team commented. There was also a significant decrease in heart rate associated with DHA supplementation.
Working memory—that which is used to store and manage information—was not affected, nor was executive function. Participants reported no adverse side effects related to treatment.
Use it, don’t lose it
Try these tips to help keep your mind spry.
• Get moving. Physical exercise helps keep the mind and body young by protecting brain tissue from age-related damage and by keeping the heart healthy.
• Stay involved. People who connect with others through church, volunteering, travel, and leisure activities are doing their brains a favor. Staying socially engaged reduces stress and helps keep the mind sharp.
• Eat right. Diets rich in brightly-colored fruits and vegetables and lean protein (especially fish) help ward off brain-damaging free radicals, preserving tip top brain function.
(Alzheimers Dement 2010;456–64)
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