(NaturalNews) A type of omega-3 fatty acid called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may help prevent the abnormal clumping of certain proteins that leads to the development of Alzheimer's disease, according to a new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience
. The research was conducted by scientists from the University of California at Irvine and from Martek Biosciences, a corporation that makes commercially available DHA products.
Alzheimer's is a common neurodegenerative disease that occurs when lesions form in the brain due to the clumping of beta-amyloid and tau proteins. Two to 3 percent of people aged 65 exhibit signs of the disease; by age 85, the percentage rises to 25 to 50 percent.
The researchers studied mice genetically predisposed to develop Alzheimer's by feeding them one of four different diets. The mice in one group were fed a diet similar to the typical US diet, low in omega-3 fats and high in omega-6s. A second group was fed a diet rich in omega-3s and supplemented with DHAs, while the other two groups were fed food rich in omega-3s and supplemented with both DHA and omega-6s. After 9 months, the brains of the mice who had been fed the DHA supplement had lower levels of beta-amyloid and tau proteins.
The researchers believe that DHA may interfere with the accumulation of these proteins by lowering levels of an enzyme needed to produce them.
Senior author Frank LaFerla says that the next step is to do clinical studies on humans in the early stages of Alzheimer's to see if DHA
supplements have a positive effect in slowing the disease's progression. Such a study is being carried out by Martek Biosciences.
DHA is naturally found primarily in fish. Animals produce very little of it on their own, but it is produced by microalgae from the genus Schizochytrium and tends to concentrate in the tissue of sea animals.