Over 1,500 dementia free volunteers (average age of 67) participated in this study. Each underwent MRI brain scans along with tests to measure mental function, body mass, and the omega-3 fatty acid level in their red blood cells.
The researchers found that people with DHA levels in the lowest 25% of the participants (the bottom quartile) had lower brain volume compared to people who had higher DHA levels. They said that the difference in brain volume was enough to make the brains of people in the bottom quartile appear two years older than those of people in the top three-quarters.
They added that participants in the bottom quartile also scored lower on tests of visual memory and executive function, such as problem solving and multi-tasking and abstract thinking.
Brain scans also showed signs of less blood supply in the brains of people with the lowest omega-3 levels. The lead researcher suggested that this may mean DHA plays a role in promoting general health of blood vessels in the brain in a similar way to how the omega-3’s are suggested to be aid heart health. This makes sense since, in general, what's good for the heart, seems to be good for the brain.
Ultimately, the researchers concluded that low DHA levels in red blood cells “are associated with smaller brain volumes and a ‘vascular’ pattern of cognitive impairment even in persons free of clinical dementia.”
The new study adds further weight to previous research that suggests beneficial health effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the brain.
Source: Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging
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