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Omega-3 fatty acids may slow down early Alzheimer’s in some cases

Omega-3 fatty acid supplements may slow cognitive decline in some patients with very mild Alzheimer’s disease, according to new findings from Karolinska Institutet (KI) in Sweden.

However, the positive affect of Omega-3 do not appear in cases with more advanced Alzheimer’s. This is the first clinical trial ever made in the field and the result is published in the October issue of Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

Alzheimer’s disease is a severely debilitating condition that affects thinking, learning and memory, beginning with declines in episodic memory. Medications are available to treat the symptoms, but these drugs do not affect the underlying cause and progression of the disease. Several studies have shown that eating fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, may protect against Alzheimer’s disease, leading researchers to question whether supplements could have similar effects.

Dr Yvonne Freund-Levi and colleagues at KI in Stockholm and Uppsala University in Uppsala, Sweden, compared the effects of supplements containing two omega-3 fatty acids with placebo in 204 patients with Alzheimer’s disease, by which 174 completed the entire study. For six months, 89 patients (51 women and 38 men) took 1.7 grams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and .6 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), while 85 patients (39 women and 46 men) took placebo. For an additional six months, both groups took the omega-3 fatty acids. Patients had physical examinations, which included blood tests and blood pressure measurement, and took cognitive tests at the beginning of the study and at the six- and 12-month marks.

After six months, there was no difference in the rate of cognitive decline between the two groups. However, among a subgroup of 32 patients with very mild cognitive impairment at the beginning of the study, those who took the fatty acids experienced less decline in six months compared with those who took placebo. Among those who took placebo during the first six months, decline decreased during the second six months, when they also began taking the omega-3 supplements. The supplements appeared safe and well-tolerated, with no change in blood pressure or blood test results other than a higher ratio of fatty acids in the blood.

“These findings cannot serve as a basis for general recommendations for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease with dietary DHA-rich fish oil preparations”, says professor Jan Palmblad. “Studies in larger cohorts with mild cognitive impairment, including those at risk for Alzheimer’s disease, are needed to further explore the possibility that omega-3 fatty acids might be beneficial in halting initial progression of the disease.”

Publication: Omega-3 fatty acid treatment of 174 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (OmegAD): a randomized double-blind trial, Yvonne Freund Levi, Maria Eriksdotter-Jönhagen, Tommy Cederholm, Hans Basun, Gerd Faxén Irving, Anita Garlind, Inger Vedin, Bengt Vessby, Lars-Olof Wahlund, Jan Palmblad, Archives of Neurology, October 2006, ref. 2006; 63:1402-1408.

For further information, please contact:

Professor Tommy Cederholm, Department of Public Care and Caring Sciences/Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, Uppsala University
Phone: +46-70-2733192
Professor Lars-Olof Wahlund, Department of Neurobiology, Caring Sciences and Society, Huddinge, KI.
Phone +46-70-7892045
Professor Jan Palmblad, Deparment of Medicine, Huddinge, KI
Phone: +46-8-585 826 93
Dr Yvonne Freund-Levi, Department of Neurobiology, Caring Sciences and Society, Huddinge, KI.
Phone +46-70-7892045
KI Press Officer:
Katarina Sternudd
Phone: +46-8-524 838 95

Katarina Sternudd | alfa
Further information:

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