Fish Oil May Help Protect Alcohol Abusers from
Up to 90% less inflammation, death in brain cells of
drinkers after exposure to omega-3 DHA
21, 2014 – Anything that reduces the risk of dementia is of high
interest to most senior citizens. New research says one way – at least
for those who drink alcohol regularly - is to take omega-3 fish oil. The
researchers discovered it will protect against inflammation and neuronal
cell death that damages the brain in alcohol abusers and can lead to
The study was conducted by Michael A. Collins, PhD,
Edward J. Neafsey, PhD, and colleagues at Loyola University Chicago
Stritch School of Medicine, and collaborators at the University of
Kentucky and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
It was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Collins and colleagues exposed cultures of adult
rat brain cells over several days to concentrations of alcohol
equivalent to about four times the legal limit for driving – a
concentration seen in chronic alcoholics. These brain cultures were
compared with cultures exposed to the same high levels of alcohol, plus
a compound found in fish oil called omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Researchers found there was up to 90 percent less
neuroinflammation and neuronal death in the brain cells exposed to
alcohol plus DHA than in the cells exposed to alcohol alone.
An earlier meta-analysis by Collins and Neafsey,
which pooled the results of about 75 studies, found that moderate social
drinking may have the opposite effect of reducing the risk of dementia
and/or cognitive impairment during aging. (Moderate drinking is defined
as a maximum of two drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for
It appears that limited amounts of alcohol might,
in effect, tend to make brain cells more fit. Alcohol in moderate
amounts stresses cells and thus toughens them up to cope with major
stresses and insults down the road that could cause dementia. But too
much alcohol overwhelms the cells, leading to neuro-inflammation and
Further studies are needed to confirm whether fish
oil protects against alcohol-related cognitive injury and dementia in
adult rodent models. "Fish oil has the potential of helping preserve
brain integrity in chronic alcohol abusers," Collins said. "At the very
least, it is unlikely that it would hurt them."
But Collins added that the best way for an alcohol
abuser to protect the brain is to cut back to low or moderate amounts or
quit entirely. "We don't want people to think it is okay to take a few
fish oil capsules and then continue to go on abusing alcohol,” he said.
PLOS ONE is an international, peer-reviewed, open-access online journal.
Collins earlier reported findings at the 14th Congress of the European
Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism in Warsaw.
Collins, principal investigator of the study, is a
professor in the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics
at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. Co-authors are
Neafsey, Nuzhath Tajuddin, MS, and Kwan-Hoon Moon, PhD, of the Stritch
School of Medicine; Kimberly Nixon, PhD, of the University of Kentucky;
and Hee-Yong Kim, PhD, of the NIAAA. The research was funded by grants
from the NIAAA at the National Institutes of Health.
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