A new study published in PLOS Medicine has found that the metabolism of omega-3 and omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids in the brain are associated with the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

Currently it is thought that the main reason for developing memory problems in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia is the presence of two big molecules in the brain called tau and amyloid proteins. These proteins have been extensively studied and have been shown to start accumulating in the brain up to 20 years prior to the onset of the disease. However, there is limited information on how small molecule metabolism in the brain is associated with the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

In this study, researchers looked at brain tissue samples from 43 people ranging in age from 57 to 95 years old. They compared the differences in hundreds of small molecules in three groups: 14 people with healthy brains, 15 that had high levels of tau and amyloid but didn’t show memory problems and 14 clinically diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients.

They found that unsaturated fatty acids were significantly decreased in Alzheimer’s brains when compared to brains from healthy patients. While acknowledging that the study was small, the scientists said that their study showed surprising results, including that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is commonly taken as a supplement, was found to increase as the disease progressed.

The researchers plan to continue this path of inquiry in larger future studies.

Paper: “Association between fatty acid metabolism in the brain and Alzheimer disease neuropathology and cognitive performance: A nontargeted metabolomic study”
Reprinted from materials provided by King’s College London.