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Jul 18, 2014 03:06 PM EDT

Omega-3 Fish Oil May Reduce Dementia Risk


Fish oil may protect against alcohol-related neurological damage and the risk of eventual dementia, according to a recent study.

Long-term alcohol abuse causes brain damage and increases the risk of dementia. However, researchers from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine found that in brain cells exposed to high levels of alcohol, Omega-3 fish oil can protect against inflammation and neuronal cell death.

"Fish oil has the potential of helping preserve brain integrity in chronic alcohol abusers," researcher Michael Collins said in a statement. "At the very least, it is unlikely that it would hurt them."

For the study, researchers 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).

They 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 researchers Michael Collins and Edward 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 one 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 neuroinflammation and cell death," researchers stated.

Collins adds 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.

The findings were recently published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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