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Why it’s Brain Food

By Susan Brink
December 31, 2007

BRAIN PROTEIN: DHA, found in oily fish, helps destroy Alzheimer’s-causing plaques.

STUDIES on rodents and people suggest that a diet rich in DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil, helps delay or prevent Alzheimer's disease. Now UCLA researchers have come up with a possible explanation.

A team led by Greg Cole, professor of neurology at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, has concluded that the DHA protection has to do with a key brain protein called LR11, which helps destroy the toxic plaques that lead to Alzheimer's. Scientists know the brains of deceased Alzheimer's patients contain lower-than-normal levels of LR11 and have wondered if increasing the LR11 levels could help delay or prevent the disease.

So Cole's team added DHA to the diets of rodents who had been genetically altered to develop an Alzheimer's-like disease. The DHA, indeed, increased brain levels of LR11. The scientists also exposed human brain cells to DHA in Petri dishes and found it increased the amount of the protective protein inside the cells.

Increasing consumption of DHA, which has already been shown to decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, might also reduce risk for Alzheimer's, Cole says. Added omega-3s are now found in some eggs and dairy products. And, of course, people can eat more fish or talk to a physician about adding a fish oil supplement or one with DHA derived from algae to their diets.

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