by Nils Osmar. Nov. 15, 2022. Medical Disclaimer
Some fats have been shown to be good, or even essential, for the brain. These brain-healthy fats include DHA and EPA from fish or krill oil – and may also include MCT oil derived from coconuts or palm.
Fatty acids from fish
Sixty percent of the brain is made up of fat. According to an article called Docosahexaenoic Acid and Cognition throughout the Lifespan, the fatty acid DHA (found in fish, krill and some other seafood) makes up over 90% of the n-3 PUFAs in the brain and 10%–20% of its total lipids. DHA is especially concentrated in the gray matter
Another fatty acid from fish, EPA, has also been shown to prevent memory loss. And both DHA and EPA are associated with a reduced risk of dementia.
Fatty acids vs. dementia
According to a Journal of Nutrition study called DHA May Prevent Age-Related Dementia:
Our recent literature review found 9 epidemiological studies associating increased fish consumption with reduced risk for dementia, including AD. Furthermore, 8 out of 10 studies found that higher blood (n-3) fatty acids were associated with reduced cognitive decline …
One report found that high fish consumption but not dietary (n-3) fatty acid intake appeared protective in the Chicago Health and Aging Project. Another study showed no risk reduction with increased RBC DHA but reduced dementia (4.3–5.1%) in those with high RBC PUFA and high whole blood mercury, a good correlate of higher long-term fish intake …
Good sources of EPA and DHA
To get EPA and DHA, you can take fish oil or krill oil or eat fatty fish. Fish low on the food chain such as sardines are an ideal source because they are much lower in contaminants such as mercury and PCBs. Pacific salmon is also high in fatty acids and low in contaminants because its migratory path takes it far from areas of pollution. Pacific sockeye (red) salmon is guaranteed to be wild because it can’t be farmed.
MCT oil vs. Alzheimer’s
There’s both some interesting anecdotal evidence, and some recent clinical evidence that MCT OIL (from coconuts) may prevent or reverse symptoms of dementia.
This article relates one doctor’s experience using MCT with her husband, who was suffering from severe Alzheimer’s: Dr. Mary Newport, Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was A Cure?
According to a 2022 study called Use of medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oil in subjects with Alzheimer’s disease: A randomized, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled, crossover study, with an open‐label extension, Newport appears to be correct. “This is the longest duration MCT AD study to date… Eighty percent had stabilization or improvement in cognition, and better response with 9‐month continual MCT oil.”
From the study:
- Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease, currently with no effective therapy.
- The brain is an obligate glucose user. AD is associated with impaired cerebral glucose metabolism.
- Ketones are an alternative source of cerebral fuel.
- Medium chain triglyceride oil (MCT) is a nutritional source of ketones.
- This study suggests consistent MCT oil intake stabilizes cognition in AD subjects, especially in mild to moderate disease.
Dr. Newport’s experience:
Olive oil and other sources of oleic acid
Oleic acid, found in both olives and avocados, also shows evidence of slowing cognitive decline. 2021 study: Consumption of Oleic Acid on the Preservation of Cognitive Functions in Japanese Elderly Individuals; “From these observations, we can propose that daily consumption of fat, especially in oleic acid, has a beneficial effect against cognitive decline in community-dwelling Japanese elderly individuals.”
This 2017 study recommends extra-virgin olive oil. : From the study:
The authors base their hypothesis on meta-analyses of epidemiological data, numerous experimental studies, and a comprehensive review of the mechanisms of action of extra-virgin olive oil and its components in the prevention of vascular disease. In addition, extra-virgin olive oil has had positive effects on experimental animal models of Alzheimer disease. We therefore propose that extra-virgin olive oil is a promising tool for mitigating the effects of adverse vascular factors and may be utilized for potential prevention of late-onset Alzheimer disease.
Avoiding unhealthy fats
Of course, people should also avoid certain fats. Three that may be good to avoid include:
- Trans fats. See Mayo Clinic article.
- Canola oil. According to this article, canola is linked to worsened memory and learning ability in people with Alzheimer’s.
- Soy oil., This study suggests that industrial soy oil ” cannot be excluded as a possible contributing cause of Alzheimer’s” and should also be avoided.
What I’m doing
I’ve found it easy to add EPA, DHA, oleic acid and MCT oils to my diet. I eat sardines three or four times a week and take fish oil and krill oil as supplements. I take MCT oil as a supplement, add it to my coffee and cook with it. I also eat avocados and olives several times a week, and avoid soy oil, canola oil and trans fats.
Speaking anecdotally, if I’m feeling tired after a day of teaching, but have more classes coming up, taking some MCT can make me feel mentally alert again.
- Science Daily article: Canola oil linked to worsened memory and learning ability in Alzheimer’s
- Pubmed article: A possible cause of Alzheimer’s dementia – industrial soy foods
- Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience: Nutrition and Prevention of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
- Journal of Nutrition Study: DHA May Prevent Age-Related Dementia
- Rev Neurol: Mediterranean diet: The role of long-chain ω-3 fatty acids in fish; polyphenols in fruits, vegetables, cereals, coffee, tea, cacao and wine; probiotics and vitamins in prevention of stroke, age-related cognitive decline, and Alzheimer disease
- Photo credit: Image by RitaE from Pixabay
Not medical advice
This article is not intended as, and should not be taken as, medical advice. I’m not advising that people eat any particular diet or take any particular supplements, just reporting on what I’m doing. All supplements can have side effects; I would encourage people to research both possible benefits and side effects before starting on any supplementation regimen. See full Medical Disclaimer
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