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Jul 19, 2014 07:02 AM EDT

Fish Oil Averts Neurodamage and Dementia in Alcohol Addicts, Study

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Omega-3 fish oil prevents neurodamage and dementia in alcohol users, according to a Loyola University study.

Previous studies showed that long-standing alcohol abuse can lead to brain damage and heighten the risk of dementia. The new study found that a fish oil compound averted inflammation and neuronal cell death.

"Fish oil has the potential of helping preserve brain integrity in chronic alcohol abusers," said Michael A. Collins of the Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, in a press release.

For the study, researchers exposed cultures of adult rat brain cells to alcohol levels equivalent to about four times the legal limit for driving. The concentration is also observed in chronic alcoholics. They then compared these brain cultures to those exposed to the same high levels of alcohol and treated with a compound called omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA - found in fish oil).

Researchers observed 90 percent less neuroinflammation and neuronal death in the brain cells exposed to alcohol plus DHA than those exposed to alcohol alone. The study, however, did not establish a direct relationship between consumption of alcohol in large quantities and fish oil supplements.

Researchers recommend addicts to stick to low-to-moderate amounts to prevent alcohol-related brain damge.

"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," Collins said in a news release.

An earlier meta-analysis of 75 studies done by the same team found that moderate drinking might slow down dementia and/or cognitive impairment during aging. Researchers said that moderate amount of alcohol might be beneficial for the brain, but over-consumption could lead to neuroinflammation or even cell death.

The study is published in the journal PLOS One.

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