Emerging Research Links Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Reduced Dementia Risk

Dementia is a devastating disease that affects millions of people worldwide, including Canadians.

Memory and concentration | Healthy Ageing


Dr. Owen Wiseman, ND


19 December 2022

What is dementia?

If you hear the word and immediately think of Alzheimer's, then you are familiar with the most common type. Unfortunately , the umbrella of dementia is far broader than just Alzheimer's. The most prominent study to date produced by the Alzheimer Society of Canada shows distressing data if we don't intervene.

"Ontario, with a 202% increase over the three decades, is projected to have the most new cases by 2050: 1.5 million new cases of Alzheimer's dementia; 680,000 new cases of vascular dementia; and 780,000 new cases of other types of dementia."
- Alzheimer Society of Canada3

1. Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's disease is the most common type of dementia, accounting for 60-80% of all cases. Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disorder that causes brain cells to die from an accumulation of amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles, leading to a decline in cognitive function.

2. Lewy body dementia

Lewy body dementia is the second most common type of dementia, accounting for 10-20% of all cases. Lewy body dementia is a progressive disorder that causes abnormalities in the brain called Lewy bodies, aggregates formed of alpha-synuclein and ubiquitin proteins. Men are at higher risk for this form.4

3. Frontotemporal dementia

Frontotemporal dementia is a rarer form of dementia that accounts for 5-10% of all cases. As the name implies, it is a progressive disorder that affects the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. This leads to a decline in cognitive function. Symptoms of frontotemporal dementia include changes in personality and behaviour, as well as difficulty with language and decision-making.

4. Vascular dementia

Vascular dementia is a type that can occur after a stroke or other cardiovascular event. Vascular dementia is caused by damage to the blood vessels in the brain, which leads to a decline in cognitive function. As plaque buildup in the arteries can be a risk factor, those with hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia should be more conscious of establishing good health habits as a preventative measure.5

5. Parkinson's disease dementia

Parkinson's disease is a chronic neurological condition that can lead to a type of dementia with a yearly incidence of about 10%.6 Parkinson's disease dementia occurs when the brain cells that produce dopamine are damaged. Dopamine is a chemical messenger that helps to control movement and mood. Symptoms of Parkinson's disease include changes in mood and behavior, as well as problems with movement and coordination.

6. Huntington's disease

Huntington's disease is a rare, inherited neurological condition that can lead to a type of dementia called Huntington's disease dementia, with prevalence varying depending on diagnostic criteria.7 Huntington's disease is due to a mutation in a protein called huntingtin that causes damage to the nerve cells in the brain, which leads to a decline in cognitive function.

Consider fatty acids to protect yourself.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found naturally in some fish and shellfish, as well as in plant sources like flaxseeds, chia seeds, and walnuts. They have a variety of health benefits, including reducing inflammation and promoting heart health. Some studies have also suggested that omega-3 fatty acids might also help protect against cognitive decline and dementia.

For example, one large prospective study followed more than 215,083 adults over the course of 8 years. The researchers found that those who had higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids were less likely to develop all-cause dementia during the study period than those with lower levels.8 Another cohort study looked at 211,094 participants throughout the United Kingdom and followed up after 12 years. Those who consumed fish oil regularly had lower risks for all-cause, vascular, and frontotemporal dementia. The authors concluded, "These findings support that habitual use of fish oils may be beneficial for the prevention of dementia in clinical practice."9

While all of these benefits are encouraging, fish oil is not appropriate for certain groups of people like those following a vegan diet. That is why products like VeganOmega3 are sourced from flaxseed and algae oil, providing a blend of ALA, EPA and DHA. In the meantime, those looking to add more vegetarian and vegan friendly dietary sources of omega-3 to their week should consider chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds, and perilla oil.

The research on omega-3 fatty acids and dementia risk is encouraging and will expand in the years to come.

References

1. Connections, Mapping. "An understanding of neurological conditions in Canada." The National Population Health Study of Neurological Conditions (2014).

2. Chang, Feng, Tejal Patel, and Mary E. Schulz. "The "Rising Tide" of dementia in Canada: What does it mean for pharmacists and the people they care for?." Canadian Pharmacists Journal/Revue Des Pharmaciens Du Canada 148.4 (2015): 193-199.
3. "Navigating the Path Forward for Dementia in Canada: The Landmark Study Report #1." Alzheimer Society of Canada, Alzheimer Society of Canada, 6 Sept. 2022, https://alzheimer.ca/en/research/reports-dementia/landmark-study-report-1-path-forward.
4. Haider, Ali, Benjamin C. Spurling, and Juan Carlos Sánchez-Manso. "Lewy body dementia." StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing, 2021.
5. Song, Juhyun, et al. "Association between risk factors for vascular dementia and adiponectin." BioMed Research International 2014 (2014).
6. Garcia-Ptacek, Sara, and Milica G. Kramberger. "Parkinson disease and dementia." Journal of geriatric psychiatry and neurology 29.5 (2016): 261-270.
7. Peavy, Guerry M., et al. "Cognitive and functional decline in Huntington's disease: dementia criteria revisited." Movement Disorders 25.9 (2010): 1163-1169.
8. Liu, Xiaohui, et al. "Association of fish oil supplementation with risk of incident dementia: a prospective study of 215,083 older adults." Clinical Nutrition 41.3 (2022): 589-598.
9. Huang, Yan, et al. "Associations of fish oil supplementation with incident dementia: Evidence from the UK Biobank cohort study." Frontiers in neuroscience 16 (2022).

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