Beneficial Omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in fish provide numerous health benefits. In clinical studies, Omega-3s have been shown to promote healthy heart and brain function, as well as support the nervous system, digestive system and other organs.* Now, scientists believe the healthy oils may provide additional support for patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
A team of experts from the Oregon Health & Science University Department of Neurology recently conducted a randomized placebo-controlled pilot trial to evaluate the effects of supplementation with Omega-3 fatty acids and alpha lipoic acid (an antioxidant) in Alzheimer’s patients. After a 12-month treatment period, they found that participants taking a combination of Omega-3 fatty acids plus ALA experienced reduced cognitive and functional decline.
While further research is planned to evaluate the combination as a possible treatment for the disease, the results of the study are encouraging. “The ultimate outcome is to be able to look at these (treatments) as a potential preventive formula—if someone could take a gram or two grams a day of fish oil before signs of the disease, it’s preventive in that it’s either decreasing the chance of turnover to Alzheimer’s disease or it’s delaying its progression. And I like the idea of using something that is cheap, accessible and easy to take,” said Lynne Shinto, N.D., assistant professor of neurology and the project’s lead investigator.
According to the OHSU study abstract, oxidative stress, inflammation, and increased cholesterol levels are all mechanisms that have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease pathology, and several studies have reported a decreased risk of the disease associated with fish oil consumption.
In 1994 the Center for Science in the Public Interest first petitioned the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to require companies to list the amount of artificial trans fats on nutrition labels. Now, more than 15 years later, the FDA hopes to greatly reduce the amount of harmful fats in the American food supply and has taken a positive step toward improving national hearth health.
Just last week the agency proposed that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs)—the primary dietary source of artificial trans fats—no longer be “generally recognized as safe” for use in food. Despite being a significant contributor to heart disease, trans fats can still be found in many products, including pre-packaged baked goods, frozen pizzas, microwave popcorn and even coffee creamer. Under the new ruling, PHOs would be considered “food additives” and could not be used in food unless companies were able to prove their safety.
“The FDA’s action today is an important step toward protecting more Americans from the potential dangers of trans fat,” stated FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, M.D. in a November 7 press release. “Further reduction in the amount of trans fat in the American diet could prevent an additional 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart disease each year—a critical step in the protection of Americans’ health.”
Although trans fats occur naturally in small amounts (mainly in meat and dairy foods), most are created artificially by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation, which increases the shelf life of processed foods and enhances the flavor and texture. Unlike beneficial monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, trans fats have been shown to raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease. In addition, trans fats lower HDL or “good” cholesterol levels, and scientists believe even two or three grams a day can increase the health risk.
While most U.S. food manufacturers and restaurants (including fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Kentucky Fried Chicken) have already significantly reduced or discontinued their use of trans fats, the FDA hopes to target the last remaining culprits. Following the announcement, the agency opened a 60-day comment period to “collect additional data” and give manufacturers enough time to reformulate products if the ruling is finalized.