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Omega-3/DHA Diet Lowers Alzheimer's Risk

One of the crucial building blocks to better health is to balance the amount the fats--omega-6 vs. omega-3--in your daily diet. People consume way too much omega-6 fats and not nearly enough omega-3 to be healthy. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats should be 1:1. Today, our ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 averages from 20:1 to 50:1!

Recently, a group of neuroscientists found another reason for you to consider ramping up your omega-3 fats: A diet high in the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) helps protect the brain against the memory loss and cell damage caused by Alzheimer's disease. This new research suggests that a DHA-rich diet may lower one's risk of Alzheimer's disease and may help slow progression of the disorder in its later stages. It also proves, one scientist said, our diets affect how our brain cells communicate with each other under the duress of Alzheimer's disease.

Researchers focused on Alzheimer's damage to synapses, the chemical connections between brain cells that enable memory and learning. By using mice bred with genetic mutations that cause the brain lesions linked to advanced Alzheimer's disease, the UCLA researchers created a mouse model to test environmental risk factors for the disorder. When the mice developed the lesions, but showed minimal memory loss or synaptic brain damage, however, the scientists took a closer look at the animals' diet and found they were eating omega-3 laden foods.

Then the research team swapped safflower oil for the soy and fish to create an unhealthful diet depleted of omega-3 fatty acids. They divided the animals into two sets of older mice, which already showed brain lesions but displayed no major loss of brain-cell activity. The researchers placed both groups on the new diet, but fed the second group DHA supplements from algae.

After five months, researchers found high amounts of synaptic damage in the brains of the Alzheimer's-diseased mice that ate the DHA-depleted diet, which closely resembled those we see in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.

EurekAlert September 1, 2004

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