Seniors May Find Relief for Spine Damage with Omega-3, Curry Spice Diet
Diet minimized disease-related changes and repaired damage to the spinal cord of UCLA lab rats – preserved walking
June 26, 2012 – New research indicates that combining a popular omega-3 fatty acid, derived from fish oil, with an
ingredient of curry spice may offer millions of older people some relief from cervical myelopathy, the most common spine-related walking
problem for people over age 55, and other spinal damage.
UCLA researchers discovered that this diet preserved walking ability in rats with spinal-cord injury. The findings
suggest that these dietary supplements help repair nerve cells and maintain neurological function after degenerative damage to the neck.
"Normal aging often narrows the spinal canal, putting pressure on the spinal cord and injuring tissue," explained
principal investigator Dr. Langston Holly, associate professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
"While surgery can relieve the pressure and prevent further injury, it can't repair damage to the cells and nerve fibers.
We wanted to explore whether dietary supplementation could help the spinal cord heal itself."
The UCLA team studied two groups of rats with a condition that simulated cervical myelopathy – a progressive disorder
that often occurs in people with spine-weakening conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis.
Cervical myelopathy can lead to disabling neurological symptoms, such as difficulty walking, neck and arm pain, hand
numbness and weakness of the limbs.
Their report is published in the June 26 issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine.
● The first group of animals was fed rat chow that replicated a Western diet high in saturated fats and sugar.
● The second group consumed a standard diet supplemented with docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, and curcumin, a compound
in turmeric, an Indian curry spice.
● A third set of rats received a standard rat diet and served as a control group.
Why these supplements? DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid shown to repair damage to cell membranes. Curcumin is a strong
antioxidant that previous studies have linked to tissue repair. Both reduce inflammation.
"The brain and spinal cord work together, and years of research demonstrate that supplements like DHA and curcumin can
positively influence the brain," said coauthor Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery.
"We suspected that what works in the brain may also work in the spinal cord. When we were unable to find good data to
support our hypothesis, we decided to study it ourselves."
The researchers recorded a baseline of the rats walking and re-examined the animals' gait on a weekly basis. As early as
three weeks, the rats eating the Western diet demonstrated measurable walking problems that worsened as the study progressed. Rats fed a diet
enriched with DHA and curcumin walked significantly better than the first group even six weeks after the study's start.
Next, the scientists examined the rats' spinal cords to evaluate how diet affected their injury on a molecular level. The
researchers measured levels of three markers respectively linked to cell-membrane damage, neural repair and cellular communication.
The rats that ate the Western diet showed higher levels of the marker linked to cell-membrane damage. In contrast, the
DHA and curcumin appeared to offset the injury's effect in the second group, which displayed equivalent marker levels to the control group.
Levels of the markers linked to neural repair and cellular communication were significantly lower in the rats raised on
the Western diet. Again, levels in the animals fed the supplemented diet appeared similar to those of the control group.
"DHA and curcumin appear to invoke several molecular mechanisms that preserved neurological function in the rats," said
Gomez-Pinilla. "This is an exciting first step toward understanding the role that diet plays in protecting the body from degenerative
"Our findings suggest that diet can help minimize disease-related changes and repair damage to the spinal cord," said
"We next want to look at other mechanisms involved in the cascade of events leading up to chronic spinal-cord injury. Our
goal is to identify which stages will respond best to medical intervention and identify effective steps for slowing the disease process."
Holly's and Gomez-Pinilla's coauthors included Dr. Donald Blaskiewicz, Aiguo Wu, Cameron Feng and Zhe Ying, all of UCLA.
Their research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (RO1 NS056413) and the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.
Links to More Archived Stories on Omega-3, Fish Oil & Better Health
UK researchers find omega-3 fatty acids slow down osteoarthritis, at least in guinea pigs; I think it worked for me!
By Tucker Sutherland, editor, SeniorJournal.com
Oct. 17, 2011 – As an active
– well very active – tennis player for many years, when I turned 70 I was worried my playing days might end due to my aching knees. I never
took the court without wearing the latest in knee protection devices. Then, shortly after I increased my daily regimen of fish oil pills, the
knee pain disappeared. I was convinced my joints were now better “oiled.” New research says there may be something to this.
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