Life Extension Magazine May 2006
Novel Strategy to Restore Brain Cell Function
By Russell Martin
Over the past 10 years, scientific studies have revealed the remarkable effects that fish consumption has on neurological function.
For instance, in both middle-aged and older study subjects, cognitive decline occurs less frequently in those who eat the most fish. In elderly subjects, the risk of dementia is reduced in those consuming as little as one fish meal a week.1 Even in children, a deficiency of the fatty acids found in fish is associated with learning disorders.2
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil are vital to brain cell structure and function. Based on the brain’s critical need for omega-3 fatty acids, scientists have developed a compound that takes the DHA found in fish oil and binds it to a lecithin extract that has been shown to reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly.
Laboratory studies document that this patented compound delivers higher DHA concentrations to brain cells. When humans with learning disabilities consumed this DHA-lecithin extract for three months, the clinical response was 2.4 times greater compared to placebo.3
The good news is that this exciting compound has been added to a popular formula used to enhance cognitive function. This means that consumers can avail themselves of this novel technology without spending additional money or swallowing extra pills.
The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil have been documented to provide multiple health benefits. As a result of numerous scientific reports, consumers are gobbling down record amounts of fish oil supplements to protect against heart attack and relieve inflammatory disorders. Most people are unaware, however, of research showing that the DHA fraction of fish oil is of critical importance for brain function in both young and old individuals.
As the major structural and functional component of the central nervous system, DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) constitutes as much as 30-50% of the total fatty acid content of the human brain.
At the beginning of life, DHA is essential for the growth and functional development of the brain. DHA deficiencies in infancy have been associated with visual impairment and the later development of disorders including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). DHA is required for the maintenance of normal brain function in adults, including learning and memory. Low levels of DHA have been shown to be a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.4
Impressive Animal Research
Experimental studies of mice and rats have been conducted to clarify the effects of DHA on learning and memory. These studies clearly indicate that DHA deficiency is associated with a loss of discriminative learning ability, while omega-3-enriched diets increase learning ability in elderly animals.5
The Japanese research team Lim and Suzuki demonstrated superior maze-learning ability in young and old mice fed a DHA-supplemented diet. After four months on the diet, the mice made significantly fewer mistakes and spent less time in the maze than the control group. They even performed better than young rats on the control diet.6
When the researchers studied the relationship between the time of DHA intake and maze behavior, they found that an improved maze-learning ability was evident at one month after the feeding started, whereas increased DHA levels in the brain were apparent as early as two weeks. These results suggest that improvement in learning ability occurs rather quickly after DHA is incorporated in the brain.7
By controlling chronic inflammation, omega-3 fatty acids may help reverse brain impairment associated with aging and degenerative diseases. In studies with aged and young rats, DHA supplementation significantly decreased free radical-induced levels of lipid peroxide in the hippocampus, a brain region involved in memory, and also reduced errors in maze learning.8
DHA Deficiency Linked to Dementia
Changes in the fatty acid composition of brain lipids during aging appear to be correlated with a deterioration of the central nervous system. Knowing that DHA constitutes a major portion of the fatty acids in the brain, it may not be surprising that low DHA levels are shown to be a significant risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
In a study tracking DHA levels in 1,188 elderly American subjects for 10 years, Alzheimer’s disease was 67% more likely to develop in individuals with DHA levels in the lower half of the distribution.9
Brain cholinergic systems are generally thought to be critical for memory function. Dysfunction of the central cholinergic system has been seen both in patients with vascular dementia and in those with Alzheimer’s-type senile dementia.
In a study of stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rats, DHA was demonstrated to increase choline and acetylcholine levels in the brain, while improving passive avoidance performance.10
Interesting results from a Japanese clinical trial on DHA and dementia provide encouragement for further research. This pilot study involved 20 elderly people (average age of 83) with moderately severe dementia induced by ischemic stroke. The participants all lived in the same home for the elderly and ate the same food. They were divided into two groups according to age and baseline scores on psychometric tests. The individuals in the treatment group received 720 mg of DHA daily for one year. Significant improvement in the dementia scores was noticeable after three to six months of DHA supplementation. The control group showed no improvement.11
In a study of 815 Chicago residents who were 65 years of age or older, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease over four years was 60% less for those who ate fish at least once a week than for those who rarely or never ate fish.1
Lecithin Extract Counters Brain Aging
At one time, soy lecithin was an enormously popular supplement. People would literally eat lecithin granules or sprinkle it on their cereal every morning. With the discovery of extraction methods that concentrate its active constituents, lecithin has fallen out of favor, since consumers can now obtain its cognition-enhancing benefits in a pill.
One of lecithin’s most effective brain-protecting extracts is phosphatidylserine, a naturally occurring compound found in every cell membrane in the body. Phosphatidyl-serine supports healthy levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, facilitates brain cell energy meta-bolism, and provides structural support for brain cell membranes. While phosphatidylserine has demonstrated impressive results in clinical trials, you will soon learn how combining it with DHA can improve its efficacy even more.
Several studies confirm the benefits of phosphatidylserine as a key component in fostering healthy brain function. Additional studies suggest that phosphatidylserine is helpful not only in treating cognitive decline, but also in avoiding its onset.
For example, a clinical study was conducted of dementia patients aged 65-91. One group received 300 mg of phosphatidylserine daily while the other was given a placebo. At the end of the six-week trial period, the phosphatidylserine group showed significant improvement over the placebo group in all measured tests of memory and cognition.12
In another placebo-controlled, double-blind study, Alzheimer’s patients taking 300 mg of phosphatidylserine daily performed significantly better on standardized memory tests at the end of the 12-week trial period than did the study participants who received placebo. Importantly, those patients who were the least afflicted by dementia demonstrated the greatest benefit from phosphatidylserine therapy. These results suggest that beginning supplementation very early on, or perhaps even before the appearance of symptoms, can help prevent age-related loss of memory and other cognitive impairments.13
Another study compared the effects of phosphatidylserine to placebo in 425 elderly patients, each with some degree of cognitive decline. When compared to a control group taking placebo, those receiving 300 mg a day of phosphatidylserine significantly improved their scoring on tests measuring both cognitive and behavioral performance. The people taking phosphatidylserine also showed markedly improved motivation, initiative, interest in surrounding environments, and socialization. Throughout the six-month trial, no one taking phosphatidylserine exhibited any side effects.14
Positron emission tomography (PET) imaging measures energy production across the brain. In advanced-stage Alzheimer’s patients, PET scans revealed that after taking 500 mg of phosphatidylserine each day for three weeks, every study participant showed significantly enhanced glucose metabolism across all brain regions, compared to baseline scans.15