(NaturalNews) A consortium of researchers, supported by the National Institutes of Health's National Institutes on Aging and coordinated by the University of California-San Diego, will be conducting a nationwide clinical trial to study the effects of an omega-3 fatty acid on the progression of Alzheimer's disease.
Researchers will study 400 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer's disease at 51 sites across the United States. All participants will be above the age of 49.
Approximately 60 percent of the participants will receive a daily supplement of 2 grams of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of omega-3; the other 40 percent will receive a placebo instead. The study will be conducted with a double-blind procedure, meaning that neither patients nor researchers will know which patients are receiving the placebo until after the study is completed.
The DHA will be donated by Martek Biosciences Company, a major manufacturer of DHA and a promoter of the fatty acid as a food additive.
The researchers will monitor the participants for 18 months, measuring the progress of Alzheimer's with a variety of cognitive tests. In addition, researchers will monitor the physical and biological markers of the disease, including brain atrophy and protein concentration in blood and spinal fluid.
Studies on mice have suggested that DHA may be effective in slowing the progression of Alzheimer's, but the upcoming study will be the first human trial.
DHA occurs naturally in microalgae and accumulates in aquatic animals higher up the food chain. For this reason, the most common, non-synthesized dietary source of DHA is fish oil. The body can synthesize small quantities of DHA upon the consumption of another omega-3 called a-linolenic acid, which is found in a variety of seeds and nuts.
There are an estimated 5 million Alzheimer's patients in the United States, It was the country's seventh leading cause of death in 2004.