Omega 3 Fish Oil Benefits
At the LSU Health Sciences Canter’s (LSUHSC) Neuroscience Centre of Excellence, testing of Docosahexanoic acid (DHA), a constituent of fish oil supplements, have revealed the ability of DHA to aid recovery of the brain in an experimental model of ischemic stroke, up to five hours after the stroke has occurred.
Funded by the NIH and published in Transitional Stroke Research, these findings not only provide crucial information about the length of time for which treatment might have an effect following a stroke but also exciting new avenues for research in the field, as well as in understanding how the different constituents of fish oil supplements interact with and benefit the body.
Ischemic stroke occurs when blood supply to an area of the brain is decreased and this may happen following a blood clot or some other obstruction. Tissue damage results, with the center of the affected tissue remaining permanently damaged leading to tissue death. Around this stroke center lies more mildly damaged tissue, called the penumbra, which may be salvaged. The penumbra may suffer damage of varying degrees, but this depends upon how quickly the blood supply is reintroduced and treatment is administered. After about three hours the tissue may be permanently damaged and further damage is caused by what is known as the ischemic cascade, in which a complex series of different but related events release molecules such as free radicals. These molecules then react with the surrounding tissue, causing cell injury and death. There is evidence to suggest that fish oils and fish oil supplements reduce the risk of blood clots and hence the risk of stroke.
DHA – An Omega 3 Fatty Acid
DHA, an omega 3 fatty acid, is abundant in the central nervous system and is essential to the proper functioning of many different processes in the brain and retina as well as playing a major role in their development. Cold water oceanic fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, are a natural source of DHAs in the diet. If you are not getting enough fresh fish, then another great source of DHA are fish oil supplements.
Fish Oil Supplements
Fish oil supplements are produced from tissues of oily fish. Including omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. Fish oil supplements have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects in diseases such as cancer, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, dry eye disease, age-related macular degeneration, coronary heart disease and sepsis. The use of fish oil supplements as a protective measure against these diseases has also been suggested. However, the implications of the use of fish oil supplements for a complex condition such as stroke have only recently been realized. It is by no means a complete cure, and the understanding of its interaction with tissues affected by stroke is in its infancy, but its discovery is a significant step in developing effective treatments.
DHA on the Brain Study
Researchers at the LSUHSC investigated the effects of DHA on stroke by administering either intravenous DHA or saline solution at intervals of 3, 4, 5 and 6 hours after the incident of stroke. By performing MRI scans it was demonstrated that in those cases where DHA was administered, less neurological deficit occurred. Symptoms of brain swelling were also reduced in these cases and neuro-behavioral recovery was promoted. The volume of dead tissue in DHA administered subjects was 40% less than that of the saline administered subjects when DHA was given after 3 hours, 66% at 4 hours and 59% at 5 hours. The DHA administered subjects showed higher levels of the neuro-protective molecule Neuroprotectin D1 (NPD1), whose production is triggered by, and is itself derived from, DHA. Amazingly, the penumbral areas of damaged tissue, which are commonly irreparably damaged following stroke, were indistinguishable from normal brain tissue at 7 days.
Presently, ischemic stroke is treated using drugs to disperse blood clots, a process known as thrombolysis. Its administration is complex and many stroke sufferers do not receive treatment within the narrow 3 hour time frame in which this drug is effective, most commonly because the condition is not recognized in time. In this way the benefits of this drug are not widely felt.
Stroke affects approximately 15 million people a year worldwide, with 6 million of these cases leading to fatalities; 150,000 of these fatalities occur in the USA. It is the second leading cause of death, following heart disease, in the Western world. It is the leading cause of long term disability worldwide for both men and women and for all ethnicities and ages. It has cost the USA a total of almost $74 billion and the lifetime cost per patient is on average around $140,000. The use of fish oil supplements as a protective factor against stroke and other neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s has been suggested. Researchers are convinced that a concerted effort, not only of research groups and clinics, but also of politicians and the general public, is required to improve these statistics. The hope is that this can lead to improved public understanding of the impact of lifestyle and diet on the incidence of stroke and to promote the positive effects of fish oils and fish oil supplements on general health.