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Omega-3 fish oil could help protect against alcohol-related dementia, according to a study presented at the 14th Congress of the European Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism in Warsaw, Poland.
The study, conducted by researchers from Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, analyzed brain cell cultures of rats who had been exposed to large quantities of alcohol.
In a previous study carried out by the same research team, it was discovered that moderate social drinking, defined as two alcoholic drinks a day for men and one for women, could reduce the risk of neuronal degeneration, a condition that frequently underlies dementia.
The research showed that small amounts of alcohol could improve the fitness of brain cells, by "toughening them up" to cope with stress later in life that could lead to dementia. However, high amounts of alcohol were found to "overwhelm" the cells, leading to inflammation and cell death.
For this most recent study, the researchers assessed hippocampal and cortical brain cultures from rats that had been exposed to large quantities of alcohol - the equivalent to a human being four times over the legal alcohol limit for driving.
The cells were then compared with brain cells that had been exposed to the fish oil - omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) - alongside the same large quantity of alcohol.
Results showed that the brain cells exposed to the combination of fish oil and alcohol showed as much as 95% less neuroinflammation and neuronal death in the brain cells, compared with the brain cells that were exposed to alcohol alone.
Michael Collins, of Loyola University Chicago and study author, explained the findings to Medical News Today:
"We quantitate the neuronal death caused by the binge alcohol, and find that the presence of DHA significantly reduces or suppresses the neuronal death as much as 95%.
The brain contains substantial levels of endogenous DHA in membranes that is reduced by the binge alcohol, and the supplementation prevents this loss. Also, there are certain critical 'neuroinflammatory' enzymatic steps that are thought to lead to the neuronal death, possibly by increasing oxygen free radicals, and while these are increased by the alcohol treatment, they are greatly reduced by the DHA cotreatment."
Prof. Collins adds that the research team hopes to study whether fish oil supplements could prevent the binge alcohol-induced neurodegeneration and functional memory impairments in adult rats in the future.
"This could lead to human studies with fish oil, which is remarkably nontoxic as far as I know," he adds.
Although the researchers say this study shows that fish oil has the potential to help preserve brain integrity in alcohol abusers, Prof. Collins says the best way to protect the brain is to stop drinking or cut down to moderate amounts:
"We don't want people to think it's okay to take a few fish oil capsules and then continue to go on abusing alcohol."
According to the Alzheimer's Society, a condition similar to alcohol-related dementia - often referred to as Wernicke-Korsakoff's syndrome - is diagnosed in about 1 in 8 people with alcoholism. Though it is not a dementia, the syndrome is accompanied by short-term memory loss due to thiamine deficiency, which can be brought on by excessive drinking. Studies have shown that the condition is most common in men between the ages of 45 and 65 with a long history of alcohol misuse.
Omega-3 fish oil has been linked to numerous other health benefits. Research published in the BMJ this year suggested that consuming at least 1-2 portions of oily fish a week could reduce the risk of breast cancer by 14%.
However, other research has shown omega-3 could have a negative effect on health. A study conducted by US researchers this year revealed that males with high blood concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids are at a higher risk of developing prostate cancer.
Written by Honor Whiteman
Copyright: Medical News Today
Not to be reproduced without the permission of Medical News Today.
Study suggests fish oil could help protect alcohol abusers from dementia, news release from Loyola University Health System.
Visit our Alzheimer's / Dementia category page for the latest news on this subject.
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