Consumption of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as fish and spinach may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease by increasing blood flow to areas in the brain associated with memory and learning, a new study claims.
In Alzheimer's disease, clumps of a protein called amyloid form around nerve cells in the brain. This amyloid damages blood vessels and may interfere with blood flow in the brain.
"This is very important research because it shows a correlation between lower omega-3 fatty acid levels and reduced brain blood flow to regions important for learning, memory, depression and dementia", said lead researcher Daniel G Amen from Amen Clinics in the US.
Researchers analysed brain images of about 166 participants. They used single photon emission computed tomography, or SPECT, to measure blood perfusion in the brain.
The Images acquired from subjects performing various cognitive tasks will show higher blood flow in specific brain regions, researchers said.
Quantitative brain SPECT was conducted on 128 regions of their brains and each participant completed computerised testing of their neurocognitive status.
They compared the images to Omega-3 Index, a measure of the blood concentration of two omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), investigators found a statistically significant correlation between higher blood flow and higher Omega-3 Index.
The team also evaluated the neuropsychological functions of the subjects and found that omega-3 levels also correlated with various psychological feelings using a standardised test battery.
Results indicated statistically significant relationships between the Omega-3 index, regional perfusion on brain SPECT in areas involved with memory, and neurocognitive testing.
"The role of the 'fish oil' fatty acids in mental health and brain physiology is just beginning to be explored. This study opens the door to the possibility that relatively simple dietary changes could favourably impact cognitive function", said William S Harris from University of South Dakota in theUS.
The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.