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Fishy stories

Many people think by eating fish you get your required Omega 3 fatty acids. Unless the fish is 100% fresh, there are no fatty acids in your fish.

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Older Headlines

Why should you take a highly concentrated Omega-3?


Fish oils 'help slow age decline'


Fish oil may double benefits of exercise for elderly


Fishing for your Child's Future


New Proof: daily dose of fish oil does help keep your brain young


Which fish do we use for our Omega 3?


The Ageing Brain and Dementia

Prof Nola Dippenaar has a PhD in the field of essential fatty acids and cancer, a master's degree in physiology and an MPhil in biochemistry (Cantab). She is currently an extraordinary Professor in the Department of Physiology at the University of Pretoria, while also running her own health coaching and consultancy firm, Health Insight. Her main area of research lies in the field of insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Contact her at or

If you have a history of Alzheimer's disease or dementia in your family, you may be living in fear of brain atrophy. While there is no definitive way to prevent dementia, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. The prescription for a lifetime of brain health starts with a diet including antioxidant nutrients and the correct ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, and – most important of all – regular exercise.

Dementia affects approximately 30 million people in the world today, and it is estimated that by 2030, 20% of all individuals above 65 will have dementia. Alzheimer's disease is the most common form of dementia, accounting for 60% of all cases.

Signs of dementia
People sometimes believe that intermittently odd behaviour is just a normal part of ageing. The early warning signs of dementia are:

• depression
• irritability
• confusion
• forgetfulness
• disturbed thinking, emotions and behaviour.

To understand this devastating condition better, insight into the complex nature of the brain is helpful.

The Composition of the Human Brain

The human brain, approximately 1.3 kg in mass, consumes 20% of our daily oxygen intake.

Sixty per cent of the brain is composed of fats, of which 25% are essential fatty acids (EFAs). Omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs need to be supplied daily, as the body is not able to manufacture them.

The highest levels of omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs are found in the frontal cortex (the part of the brain responsible for personality, memory and integration).

The various long-chain members of these two EFA families, referred to as PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids), are either synthesised in the brain or obtained from the diet, crossing the blood/brain barrier.

As we age, ability to form these vital PUFAs, especially DHA, EPA, AA and DGLA, from the parent omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs declines, and in the elderly the ability to convert becomes negligible.

The type of fat eaten very much determines the fatty acid composition and make-up of brain cell membranes, as well as the composition of the fatty myelin sheath that surrounds nerve fibres, speeding up their conduction of nerve impulses. Research has shown that brain membrane fatty acid levels are most responsive to omega-3 and 6 levels in the diet, and especially to their ratio – more so than to the intake of any other fats. The fat content of the diet therefore has a major influence on brain function.

Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratio
Intake of these two essential fatty acids in the correct ratio on a daily basis is vital for healthy body function. Mother's milk is a benchmark for humans, where the ratio of omega-6 to 3 is in the order of between 5 and 10 to 1, depending on the mother's diet. However, for two major reasons, most of us obtain a much higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 from the typical diet consumed. Firstly, sunflower oil, 66% of which is the omega-6 parent fatty acid, is very widely used in the food and baking industries. There is no doubt that omega-6 intake is very important, but the correct ratio of the two families is crucial for healthy body function. Secondly, daily intake of the omega-3 family is generally low due to low intake of fish and seafood, which are the best dietary sources available.

Lipid turnover in the Brain with Ageing
The rate of lipid turnover in the brain is higher than that of protein; however, lipid turnover declines with ageing, and ageing also leads to slowing in the rate of repair of oxidised or damaged lipids in the brain.

Studies have shown a marked decrease in brain levels of EFAs with ageing. This decrease is not uniform throughout the brain, with the hippocampus and cortex showing the greatest decline. This is significant, because these areas are associated with memory and learning.

Patients with Alzheimer's disease have a particularly drastic decline in their EFA levels, and studies have shown that an EFA deficiency seems to accelerate the ageing process of the brain.

Reasons for the EFA decline with Ageing

As we age, all our body systems become a little less effective. One of these is the protective blood/brain barrier (BBB), which surrounds the brain and controls what enters the brain tissue. Ability of EFAs to cross the BBB therefore decreases as we age, in addition to the reduced ability of the brain to convert the parent EFAs, omega-3 and omega-6, into their longer-chain metabolites (PUFAs).

The anti-oxidant status of the brain also declines with ageing. Bear in mind that the human brain consumes 20% of total body oxygen and because of its high content of highly unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress in the form of reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS can oxidise and damage these unsaturated fatty acids in the brain, further exacerbating the EFA decline. DHA, the most unsaturated member of the omega-3 PUFA family, is very plentiful in the human brain, and therefore particularly prone to peroxidation and damage by ROS.

Alzheimer's Disease
Alzheimer's is a degenerative, inflammatory disease that specifically damages the cortex and hippocampus of the brain. Both oxidative damage and inflammation begin early. Clumps of proteins called amyloid plaques and tau tangles proliferate, especially in the cortex and hippocampus, destroying brain cells, synapses and their connections, amid inflammation in these areas.

Alzheimer's is a complex disease with many contributors in the form of genes (1%), lifestyle and environment. Research has shown that lifestyle contributors to this devastating disease are:

• lack of anti-oxidant nutrients in the diet (which neutralise ROS)
• low omega-3 fatty acid intake
• a diet high in saturated and trans-fats, especially together with
   a high intake of copper
• excessive stress and the presence of the stress hormone,
• raised blood homocysteine levels
• excessive exposure to aluminum and/or mercury
• lack of physical and mental exercise.

Mental Health
Dementia and Alzheimer's disease are not a 'normal' part of ageing, and cognitive decline need not be accepted as inevitable.

Dementia, and in particular its most common form, Alzheimer's, can be prevented or halted by a comprehensive optimal nutritional approach from as early in life as possible. The goal is to provide improved nutrition to prevent memory decline in the first place.

How do we do this?

Increased intake of fish is strongly supported, as this is the major dietary source of DHA.

In addition, daily supplementation of DHA and EPA (omega-3 supplementation) appears to protect against both cognitive decline and vascular disease – another major cause of age-related dementia.

The greatest lifestyle change one can make to significantly reduce the risk of dementia (including Alzheimer's) is often an elusive one – finding time for physical activity every day of one's life. This also reduces the risk of many other age-related diseases such as diabetes.

The personal choice of a healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to keep your mind and brain intact and functioning well, no matter what your age. Daily exercise is as important, if not more important, than daily intake of food, and we never contemplate not enjoying something delicious to eat each and every day.

Compelling new evidence indicates that regular exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, the seat of memory. Physical activity also preserves mental ability by increasing blood flow to the brain, improving the physiology of brain cells and their repair mechanisms. Regular exercise also decreases the risk of heart and blood vessel diseases that can impact on brain function.

Mental impairment and deterioration are not inevitable with ageing. Healthy lifestyle choices, made as early in life as possible, provide great benefits to be reaped in later years. We are the choices we make.

Prof Nola Dippenaar
Natural Medicine
(February 2012 issue)
Posted. 2012-02-03

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