Potential beneficial effects of omega-3 fatty acids on Alzheimer’s disease
Currently, in 2018, 50 million people worldwide are affected by dementia (approximately two thirds have Alzheimer’s disease, while the other third includes vascular dementia, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia) and it is estimated that by 2050 this figure will have risen to 152 million, i.e. as many people with irreversibly damaged brain cells as the population of Russia or Bangladesh. A person develops dementia in the world every 3.2 seconds. In the United States, Alzheimer’s disease-related mortality is now higher than that of breast and prostate cancer together. And notably, although dementia mainly affects the elderly, there is an alarming rise in the number of cases whose onset is before the age of 65.
However, despite much progress in research, a PubMed search returns approximately 3 million articles on cancer, but only around 250,000 results for dementia and neurodegeneration. There is still a long way to go.
With regard to treatment, since 1998 (20 years ago), over 100 drugs have been tried, but only 4 have been authorised for use. These are drugs that help some (but not all) people with their symptoms, but do not provide a cure. Hence the considerable interest in studying possible treatments that, at the very least, slow down or reduce the devastating effects of dementia. Among them, omega-3 fatty acids are being widely studied in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential components of neuron membranes and are involved in the development of intelligence, the nervous system and sight, as well as in the metabolism of neurotransmitters; they are involved (as are unsaturated fatty acids) in the regulation of cell migration, nerve tissue apoptosis and cholinergic, catecholaminergic and serotonergic synaptic transmission. They also react with the aldehides that protect cell proteins. All this suggests they have a potential protective effect against the consequences of dementia.
Wang, et al. (2018) investigated their in vitro effects in the microvascular endothelial cells of mice treated with rotenone (a plant-based insecticide used to induce experimental models of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases). In their in vitro study, they observed that treating the brain endothelial cells with omega-3 fatty acids had protective effects: a reduction in lipid peroxidation, reactive oxygen species and the number of apoptotic cells; and an increase in catalase, glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase. This is important, as accelerated oxidative damage is a critical factor in Alzheimer’s disease , as is the abnormal increase in lipid peroxidation and oxidative stress.
These findings are in line with other previously published studies and show the potential of omega-3 fatty acids as therapeutic agents in Alzheimer’s disease.
Wang L, Fan H, He J, Wang L, Tian Z, Wang C. Protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids against Alzheimer's disease in rat brain endothelial cells. Brain Behav. 2018 Oct 8:e01037. doi: 10.1002/brb3.1037. [Epub ahead of print]
Dementia statistics [Internet]. Alzheimer's Disease International [date of publicatdion: November 2018]. Disponible en: https://www.alz.co.uk/research/statistics
World Alzheimer Report 2018. The state of the art of dementia research: New frontiers [Internet]. Alzheimer's Disease International [date of publication: September 2018]. en: https://www.alz.co.uk/research/WorldAlzheimerReport2018.pdf?2