Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health

Fish Oil May Help Protect Alcohol Abusers from Dementia

Up to 90% less inflammation, death in brain cells of drinkers after exposure to omega-3 DHA

July 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 dementia.

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.

 

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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 women.)

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 cell death.

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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