Fish Oil Supplements Appear to Help Older People Think Better, Save Brains
There was clear association between fish oil supplements and brain volume
Aug. 17, 2011 – The evidence from a recent study of older people indicates that consuming fish oil supplements has a
positive impact on brain health and aging. The researchers report better cognitive functioning as well as a difference in brain structure
between people taking fish oil supplements and non-users.
The results of the research from the Rhode Island Hospital's Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center were
reported at the recent International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease, in Paris, France.
The study was led by Lori Daiello, PharmD, a research scientist at the Center. Data for the analyses was obtained from
the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), a large multi-center, NIH-funded study that followed older adults with normal
cognition, mild cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer's Disease for over three years with periodic memory testing and brain MRIs.
The study included 819 individuals, 117 of whom reported regular use of fish oil supplements before entry and during
study follow-up. The researchers compared cognitive functioning and brain atrophy for patients who reported routinely using these supplements
to those who were not using fish oil supplements.
Daiello reports that compared to non-users, use of fish oil supplements was associated with better cognitive functioning
during the study.
However, this association was significant only in those individuals who had a normal baseline cognitive function and in
individuals who tested negative for a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's Disease known as APOE4. This is consistent with previous research.
The unique finding, however, is that there was a clear association between fish oil supplements and brain volume.
Consistent with the cognitive outcomes, these observations were significant only for those who were APOE4 negative.
"In the imaging analyses for the entire study population, we found a significant positive association between fish oil
supplement use and average brain volumes in two critical areas utilized in memory and thinking (cerebral cortex and hippocampus), as well as
smaller brain ventricular volumes compared to non-users at any given time in the study,” Daiello says.
“In other words, fish oil use was associated with less brain shrinkage in patients taking these supplements during the
ADNI study compared to those who didn't report using them."
Daiello continues, "These observations should motivate further study of the possible effects of long-term fish oil
supplementation on important markers of cognitive decline and the potential influence of genetics on these outcomes."
The research team included Brian Ott M.D., director of the Rhode Island Hospital and Memory Disorders Center, Assawin
Gongvatana Ph.D., Shira Dunsiger Ph.D. and Ronald Cohen Ph.D. from The Miriam Hospital and the Brown University Department of Psychiatry and
Human Behavior (Gonvatana and Cohen), and Department of Behavior and Social Sciences (Dunsiger).
Daiello is a research scientist at Rhode Island Hospital, a member hospital of the Lifespan health system in Rhode Island
and an assistant professor of neurology (research) at The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.
Direct financial and infrastructure support for this project was received through the Lifespan Office of Research
Administration. The study was supported by career development grants from the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (Daiello) and the
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Gongvatana).
About Rhode Island Hospital
Founded in 1863, Rhode Island Hospital (www.rhodeislandhospital.org)
in Providence, RI, is a private, not-for-profit hospital, the largest teaching hospital of The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown
University and a founding member of the Lifespan health system.
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