B vitamins and Omega-3 May Protect Against Brain Shrinkage

Dr. Fredrik Jernerén PhD Postdoctoral Research Fellow Department of Pharmacology University of Oxford Oxford, United KingdomMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Fredrik Jernerén PhD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
Department of Pharmacology
University of Oxford
Oxford, United Kingdom

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Dr. Jernerén: Development of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is associated with an accelerated rate of brain shrinkage. Identifying ways to reduce the brain atrophy rate at an early stage may offer new strategies to prevent or delay the onset of dementia. In this study on elderly subjects diagnosed with Mild cognitive impairment (MCI), who are at increased risk of developing dementia, we investigated whether the effect of B vitamin supplementation on reducing the brain atrophy rate was influenced by circulating levels of omega-3 fatty acids. We have found that this indeed was the case. The higher the baseline concentration of the combined omega-3 fatty acids (DHA+EPA), the greater the protective effect of the B vitamin treatment. In subjects with high omega-3 concentrations who at the same time had elevated homocysteine levels (indicating a lack of B vitamins), B vitamin treatment reduced the brain atrophy rate by about 70% compared with the placebo group. 

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Dr. Jernerén: The need for B vitamin or omega-3 supplementation shouldn’t be assessed in isolation. Our results indicate that both are needed at sufficient levels for optimal protection against accelerated brain shrinkage. What we should do is to screen the elderly for early signs of cognitive impairment and then assess their homocysteine and omega-3 fatty acid status. This would provide clinicians and patients the opportunity to decide which supplements, if any, may help to reduce their future risk of dementia.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Dr. Jernerén: First and foremost there is a clear need for a larger clinical trial supplementing both B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids, alone and in combination. We also need to learn more about the mechanisms underlying these observations. For example, by addressing the possible effect of B vitamins on the transport of omega-3 fatty acids to the brain. Lastly, we may have to assess why some trials on B vitamin supplementation have produced negative results; one reason might be insufficient omega-3 fatty acid levels in their study groups.

Citation:

Brain atrophy in cognitively impaired elderly: the importance of long-chain ω-3 fatty acids and B vitamin status in a randomized controlled trial

Fredrik Jernerén, Amany K Elshorbagy, Abderrahim Oulhaj, Stephen M Smith, Helga Refsum, and A David Smith
Am J Clin Nutr ajcn103283; First published online April 15, 2015. doi:10.3945/ajcn.114.103283

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MedicalResearch.com Interview with: Dr. Fredrik Jernerén PhD (2015). B vitamin and Omega-3 May Protect Against Brain Shrinkage 

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