As a neurologist, I see patients with progressive memory loss almost on a daily basis. Memory loss can be devastating. As cognitive functioning declines, one’s independence typically evaporates.
It starts gradually, with forgetting appointments, repeatedly asking the same questions, having difficulty balancing a checkbook or maybe getting a little lost when driving.
As the condition progresses, there becomes total dependence on others, with increased disorientation and even loss of recognition of family and friends. The end stage is that these patients must be fed, dressed and cleaned-similar to what might be done with a small infant. If there’s any ray of light in this horror, it’s that with progressive loss of brain cells, patients typically lose awareness of their cognitive skills. Unfortunately, for caregivers, it’s a 24/7 nightmare. I can’t tell you how many times over the years that children of patients with memory loss have asked me if there’s anything they can do to reduce the risk of a similar outcome.
I’m pleased to report that a breakthrough study was just published in the October Archives of Neurology regarding cognitive impairment1. In this study, 204 patients with varying degrees of memory loss were randomized into two groups.
One group received omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFA) with 1,700 mg of DHA and 600 mg of EPA daily for six months. The other group received placebo. At the end of the six-month trial, all patients were put on EFA for an additional six months. A total of 174 patients completed the entire study. It was found that for those with more advanced memory loss, omega-3 EFAs did not have any benefit.
However, for a subgroup of patients with very mild memory loss, there was a significant reduction in memory decline for those supplementing with EFAs. How EFAs were able to confer benefit was not clear to the authors, but they felt it may be in some way related to the anti-inflammatory effects of the fish oil. They further postulated that t hose whose memory loss was too advanced could not be substantially assisted by the anti-inflammatory benefits of fish oil.
The take home message is pretty clear. I’ve said this for many years. The best way to stay healthy is to eat healthy, exercise and take high quality supplements, including fish oil. Once you’ve allowed your health to decline, it becomes increasingly difficult to reverse the decline. The fact is, by the time you have advanced or severe memory loss, most of your brain cells have died and cannot be recovered. However, taking precautionary measures, such as supplementing with omega-3 EFAs, may very well mean the difference between suffering memory loss or not.
Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil is also proven to promote a healthy mood, benefit cardiovascular health and help keep joints healthy. Before you go running off to load up on fish oil, I must point out that many fish oil products on the market do n’t deliver the concentration of DHA and EPA utilized in this study. In fact, most fish oil products only contain a total of 300 mg of EPA and DHA per softgel.
It’s also important to read the label and look at how many softgels must be consumed to equal the supplement facts; some require you to take three or four to get the amount noted on the label. Taking standard fish oil would require consuming about eight softgels per day. I’d recommend you choose a molecularly distilled and concentrated fish oil supplement containing at least 600 mg per day of EPA & DHA per softgel; two to four per day provides the optimal amount, versus four to eight of the less potent.
The best fish oil supplements contian molecularly distilled with each softgel of about 400 mg of EPA and 200 of DHA along with other omega 3 EFAs. It’s important to note that the best supplement is not derived from fish liver oil but from molecularly distilled fish oil. There should also be undetectable levels of mercury, lead and other contaminants, assuring you are safe from heavy metals.
There was another excellent study just published in the OctoberJournal of Nutrition2. In this study out of the University of Florida, 59 healthy law students were given either an encapsulated fruit and vegetable juice powder concentrate or placebo for 11 weeks. At the start, midpoint and end of the study, blood was drawn to measure antioxidant status, DNA damage and other parameters of immune function. By the end of the study, there was a 30% increase in circulating T lymphocytes (which are good), and a 40% reduction in DNA damage in white cells in those given fruit and vegetable powder concentrate compared to the placebo group. Overall, it was found that those who consumed the supplement had increased levels of plasma nutrients with improvement in antioxidant capacity and reduction in DNA damage with increase in circulating T cells.
As discussed in prior newsletters, free radical damage to DNA is a leading cause of aging and the decline in health associated with aging. Antioxidants neutralize these free radicals before they damage DNA.
Finally, I’d like to discuss another double-blind study published in the November American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism3. Thirty three obese patients with elevated blood sugar consumed a low-calorie diet and exercised for 21 days. P atients were then divided into two groups. The first group received 8.3 grams a day of L-arginine; the second group received placebo. At the end of the study, those who took L-arginine had a statistically significant decrease in adipose fat mass and waist circumference, with statistically significant improvements in mean daily glucose profiles. Study authors indicated that long-term oral L-arginine supplementation resulted in an additive effect, compared with the diet and exercise program alone. They further noted that it improved function within the lining of artery walls and reduced oxidative stress in obese patients with elevated blood sugar and insulin resistance.
- Freund-Levi, Y.; Eriksdotter-Jönhagen, M.; Cederholm, T.; et. al. -3 Fatty Acid Treatment in 174 Patients With Mild to Moderate Alzheimer Disease: OmegAD Study: A Randomized Double-blind Trial. Arch Neurol;63:1402-1408.
- Nantz, M.; Rowe, C.; Nieves, Jr., C.; Percival, S. Immunity and Antioxid ant Capacity in Humans Is Enhanced by Consumption of a Dried, Encapsulated Fruit and Vegetable Juice ConcentrateJ. Nutr; 136: 2606-2610.
- Lucotti, P.; Setola, E.; Monti, L.; Galluccio, E. et. al. Beneficial effects of a long-term oral L-arginine treatment added to a hypocaloric diet and exercise training program in obese, insulin-resistant type 2 diabetic patients. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 291: E906-E912,.