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DHA and Alzheimer's Disease

DHA and Alzheimer's Disease

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Published by: Dancebp4 on Oct 14, 2009
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Rebecca Hodges3/6/08 NRT 320Research Paper 
DHA and Alzheimer's Disease
Docosahezaenoic acid (DHA), an omega-3 fatty acid, could be a significant preventativesupplement or treatment for neurodegenerative disorders in the aging population. It isaccurate to say that DHA is beneficial for the development of the human brain during itsformation and throughout infancy (1). It may be deduced then, that DHA may also provide some benefit to the brain at all stages of life. As the brain ages, it begins todeteriorate, reversing the cerebral-genesis of infancy. It has been proven that the additionof DHA to the diet "can improve the cognitive dysfunction due to aging or organic braindamages" (2). It is also possible that DHA can be added as a prophylactic before agingor the onset of neurodegenerative diseases, specifically, Alzheimer's Dementia (AD)(1,3). DHA has been proven to produce significant improvements in immediate memoryand attention scores in clinical tests (2). However, DHA is not a cure for the aging or Alzheimer's brain. Because Alzheimer's disease is rarely diagnosed early enough in its progression to delay rapid progression, it may be advisable to add the consumption of adequate sources of DHA to a healthy diet or to consume it in a supplement. "It is also projected that omega -3 fatty acids could be useful in the prevention of deferent pathologies, such as cardiovascular, psychiatric, neurological, dermatological, andrheumatological disorders, as well as inflammatory and autoimmune andneurodegenerative diseases" (3).DHA is a very long unsaturated fatty acid chain. The fatty acid, DHA, makes upthe phospholipid layer of neural cells in the human brain (3). DHA performs several1
Rebecca Hodges3/6/08 NRT 320Research Paper other important functions in the brain including monitoring synaptic firing andmonitoring all parts of the ion channel needed for signal transfer (3). Because of DHA'simpact on neural signaling, research shows that neural membrane fluidity is directlyrelated to the concentration of unsaturated fatty acids present in the brain (3,5,7).Although necessary, the human body cannot manufacture DHA, nor can humanssufficiently synthesize it from α-linolenic acid (ALA) or eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); itmust come from diet or supplementation (1,4). Further, "National studies suggest that theWestern diet is deficient in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids" (3). It is found mainly infatty fish like salmon, herring, and tuna (3,5). Because the fish do not make the DHA, itcan also be found in the plankton and algae that the fish consume (3).The population of most concern in regards to DHA consumption is infants.Infants' brains are constantly growing and developing (1,3,5). Since 2002, DHA has beendeemed vital enough for infant neural development, that most formula companies nowfortify their products with it (3,4). This rise in fortification resulted from many researchstudies confirming that DHA is positively linked to the brain development of fetuses andinfants (3,5). In stark contrast to the rapidly growing brain of an infant, aging adults withAlzheimer's disease suffer extreme deterioration of the brain. It can be assumed, then,that DHA is beneficial for the maintenance of those neural cell membrane phospholipidsthat it helped form initially (1).The elderly are particularly susceptible to malnutrition (6). They tend to eat lessand consume a smaller variety of foods (6). Many factors contribute to the developmentof poor nutritional habits in later adulthood (6). Physical problems such as illness,weakness, and the effect of medications negatively affect the desire to eat (6). Also,2
Rebecca Hodges3/6/08 NRT 320Research Paper factors like low income, little person to person interaction, or restricted diets that requireextra energy to prepare, deter the elderly from cooking nutritious meals for themselves(6). An elderly person's poor nutritional status is directly related to his or her healthstatus, including mental health. A particularly important factor in healthy aging is themaintenance of cognitive function (1). In the past several years, research has beenconducted regarding the benefits of DHA for the aging brain. Further, DHA has been proven to benefit AD brains as well.Alzheimer's disease is a progressive neurodegenerative disease effecting"approximately 10% of the population over the age of 65 y and 47% of the populationover 80 y of age in Western countries as the leading cause of dementia" (5). This diseaseis "characterized by progressive loss of memory, intellectual decline, and eventuallyglobal cognitive impartment" (5). These symptoms result from "massive neuronal cellloss in the association, hippocampus and limbic regions of the human brain, and progressive loss of synaptic proteins and contacts and diminution of inter-neuronalsignaling" (7).AD may begin, in some cases, as many as twenty years before diagnosis (8).During that time, nerve cell death and tissue loss begins, eventually causing the brain toshrink significantly and fluid filled spaces to increase in size (8). Researchers do notknow the exact cause of AD but many are led to believe that the formation of plaques andtangles could be causes (5,8). Plaques are "abnormal clusters of protein fragments, builtup between nerve cells that block cell to cell signaling at the synapses" (8). These plaques are made up a beta-amyloid, which are pieces of protein that collect and stick together, blocking synaptic transmission and the delivery of nutrients to the cell (3,8).3

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