Amazing Grace: Enjoying Alzheimer's !

the mission: to give sufferers and carers an alternative to drugs

Role of the essential fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 in Alzheimer disease (Judy Douch) PDF  | Print |  E-mail
  Studies in the 1970s showed that arachnidonic acid (AA — an omega-6 fatty acid) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA — an omega-3 fatty acid) were very important in the development of infant brains. Both AA and DHA were found in mothers’ milk but not in formula milk.
 As we age the brain cells are less capable of regeneration and rely heavily on recirculation of materials within the brain itself in order to function properly. Whatever triggers the onset of Alzheimer disease, be it genetic, environmental or nutritional, the end result is a loss of function of nerve connections (synapses) in the brain, leading to loss of memory and general confusion. There is also loss of the fatty protective tissues in the brain (demyelination) following on from loss of phospholipids in membranes of brain cells, this results in eventual cell death. Consequently, as a result of membrane dysfunction, calcium levels in the brain rise; there is increased oxidative activity leading to oxidative stress responses in the brains of early Alzheimer patients.

 It is now generally acknowledged that our modern diet is nutritionally deficient in polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals and vitamins. Humans do not make omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, they have to come from plant and other animal sources in our diet. Human brains have few antioxidants but do have enzymes to combat oxidative stress. The manufacture of these enzymes requires trace elements such as copper, zinc, manganese and selenium. A DHA breakdown product has recently been shown to be a powerful antioxidant in the protection of the brain from oxidative stress. Thus, dietary supplements given in early stages of Alzheimer disease could have several functions: foods rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, together with vitamins A and B plus trace elements, could slow down the degeneration of brain cells and tissues by providing the components vital to make phospholipids in brain cell membranes. B vitamins should provide optimum biological conditions for brain function and trace elements are essential for manufacture of enzymes that protect against oxidative stress.

 A recommended diet should include: fresh, dark oily fish such as herring, mackerel, tuna and salmon or “greens” such as cabbage to provide omega-3; omega-6 is found in plant sources such as sesame or sunflower oils. However these two have to be in the correct ratio: as humans evolved the ratio was almost 1 : 1 but today is nearer 15 (omega-6) : 1 (omega-3). This is a reflection of changed agricultural practices, food processing and different eating habits

lifestyles over the last two centuries. An oily fish-diet or cod liver oil supplements would restore the imbalance.

 We are beginning to wake up to the fact that unless we have a drastic change in our dietary habits many physical and mental problems are going to beset us all, not just sufferers of Alzheimer disease (and indirectly their carers). With respect to the latter it is estimated that 24 million victims of dementia worldwide (and their carers) are suffering unnecessarily when there is a relatively cheap alternative available.

 Judy Douch B.Sc. (Hod), M.Sc.
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