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What you Need to Know About Fish Oil & Omega 3s to Help With Alzheimer’s Disease

Posted by on Sunday, January 26th, 2014

There is a lot of discussion today about how (and which) Omega-3s can have positive effects on the brain and promote cognitive health. Specifically, these have been touted as a way to slow the onset of memory loss, and reduce risk for dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.  Does the truth live up to the hype?  If so, what type of fish oil is best, and are supplements enough to help with Alzheimer’s? 

From Confusion to Clarity

The #1 take home point with Omega’s 3s (also referred to as a “Omega 3 fatty acids”) is that not all of the different types are created equal in terms of potential for protecting brain health. As discussed in detail in The Alzheimer’s Diet book, there are several types of Omega-3s, with DHA having the most evidence for brain protection, followed by EPA. Another new study was recently published that again supports this. Another common form of Omega 3 is called ALA, but the problem with ALA is that only a very small percentage actually gets later converted in the body to the brain-boosting forms (DHA and EPA). Complicating things, a recent study showed an association between DHA and prostate cancer in men, yet the American Nutrition Association (as well as many experts) state that the overall benefits likely outweigh risk. Before considering any changes to ones diet or before considering starting a supplement, people should always discuss first and seek approval by their treating physician.  For a specialized opinion, scheduling a consultation with the Alzheimer’s Prevention & Treatment Program at New York Presbyterian / Weill Cornell Medical Center in NYC  is also an option.

Another important point that leads to a lot of confusion is that a lot of people use the terms “Fish Oil” and “Omega-3s” interchangeably. Fish oil comes from fish and can be supplemented in the diet in capsule form, but each capsule has different amounts of DHA, EPA, ALA etc. Many people also don’t realize that Omega 3 fatty acids are plentiful in certain types of fish, and the fish actually get these brain-healthy fatty acids from eating algae. There are even very specific types of Omega 3 supplements that are DIRECTLY from algae, rich in DHA, and have been studied specifically in patients with the earliest stages of AD.  These studies showed slowing of cognitive decline and improvements in memory. To learn more about this topic, as well as which types of fish may be most beneficial, and to read an overview of all the evidence and other specific dietary choices for Alzheimer’s prevention and treatment, read The Alzheimer’s Diet book.


Research is being done regarding the effect of fish oil when it comes to the Alzheimer’s disease prevention and treatment.  Read below for more details.

Benefits of fish oil for help with Alzheimer's

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Why Omega-3s?

Why is Omega-3 so important to brain health?  The answer is simple; approximately 60 percent of brain tissue is made up of fatty acids such as Omega 3s. According to, “Omega-3 helps the transport of nutrients and ‘happy chemicals’ (prostaglandins and neurotransmitters) like serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Omega-3 also laces or lines nerves. And since the brain is the center of the nervous system, it has a huge and constant need for Omega-3.”

Research (continued)

Research is being done regarding the efficacy of fish oil when it comes to the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.  Fish oil contains a complex variety of components of which Omega-3 fatty acid has garnered the most attention, particularly to help with Alzheimer’s.  Researchers are performing studies to find out just how fish oil works to promote brain health. With all that in mind studies have come up with some very exciting and positive results.

One study involving fish oil was conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles and demonstrated that an Omega-3 fatty acid (DHA) increased the production of a protein called LR11.  Scientists know that LR11 helps to prevent beta amyloid proteins from being produced in the brain.  Beta amyloid proteins are plaques that are found in heavy concentrations in the brain in  Alzheimer’s disease.  Researchers at UCLA didn’t focus on particular quantities of LR11 required to prevent these plaques, but instead examined the interaction between LR11 and beta amyloid proteins.

Amyloid plaque prevention from fish oil to help with Alzheimer's

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Another study on the use of fish oil in combating Alzheimer’s disease was conducted by Rhode Island Hospital’s Alzheimer’s Disease and Memory Disorders Center.  The researchers studied 819 men and women of which 117 were taking fish oil supplements.  At the beginning of the research the participants were given memory tests and then for the next 3 years follow ups were conducted.  Brain scans were also done as a part of the study to note any changes in the make-up of brain tissue.  Researchers discovered that the participants who were taking the fish oil supplements performed better on all the memory tests and also that their thinking abilities were better than the participants who weren’t taking the supplements.  Another discovery was the fact that the participants taking the fish oil had larger brains, which is a sign of improved cognitive function.  Shrinkage of the brain tissue is often seen in patients with cognitive disorders and in Alzheimer’s disease.  The fish oil group showed particular improvement in the hippocampus and cerebral cortex-both areas of the brain that are charged with memory and thinking skills.   Fish oil has been thought to help the body overall with stress.

 Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center focused on people who ate fish on a regular basis.  The study focused on 260 adults over a period of ten years.  Once again researchers discovered that those who ate fish and therefore consumed Oomega-3 fatty acids had better memory function and a larger brain volume than the participants who didn’t consume fish. When researchers performed brain scans on the participants they discovered that key areas in the brain, the hippocampus, and frontal cortex, had more mass than those who did not consume fish. 

Omega 3 fatty acids for help with Alzheimer's

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Fish Oil Supplements

So what does all of this mean?  At the very basic level it means that consuming wild caught cold water fish throughout your life will give you a protective barrier from some forms of cognitive decline.  In addition, the supplementation of fish oil is a practice that can help, particularly for those who live in geographic areas of the country where fresh fish is not available-of course frozen fish will suffice.

Healthy Recipe

There are plenty of great tasting recipes online for wild caught cold water fish, such as; Pan-seared Salmon with a Tangy Thai Sauce-yum!

Curry Salmon for help with Alzheimer's disease

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In Conclusion

It may not be very practical to eat fish more than 4-5 days per week, so supplements may be a great back-up to ensure a person are getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids for help with Alzheimer’s  each day. Fish oil and DHA not only provides protection for cognitive decline, fish oil is also healthy for the heart.  As the research continues be sure to add fish into your diet, particularly wild caught salmon, tuna, sardines, and mackerel-all rich in Omega-3s and other important nutrients.  People should try to eat fish at least 2 to 3 times a week and take fish oil supplements according to their treating doctor’s recommendations.  This combination can help to ensure a person will have a strong and brain for years to come. 



For more easy to follow nutrition advice check out The Alzheimer’s Diet: A Step-by-Step Nutritional Approach to Memory Loss Prevention and Treatment, or visit to learn more about Neurologist, Dr. Richard Isaacson's 9 week diet plan and his cutting edge approach in the fight against AD in Alzheimer's Treatment | Alzheimer's Prevention: A Patient and Family Guide 2012 Edition. Also, sign up for the newsletter to get the latest updates in AD treatment and prevention news.

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