EPA and DHA potential effects on Alzheimer’s risk


Alzheimer disease is the most common neurodegenerative disorder (it constitutes 60-80% of all dementias) worldwide, with 1 in 5 people aged >80 y having Alzheimer. Globally, 35.6 million people are living with dementia and this number is expected to reach 115.4 million by 2050. With the aging and the life expectancy of the world population increasing, developing interventions to prevent and treat Alzheimer disease/dementia has become an public health priority. Although the disorder progression is currently better understood, available medical interventions can only ameliorate some of the symptoms but cannot slow disease progression. An effective cure (pharmacological or non-pharmacological) has yet to be discovered, and so lifestyle and nutritional factors are crucial in managing the disease.

Neuroinflammation plays an important role in the advancement of this disorder, and omega-3 fatty acids are involved in both the reduction in and resolution of inflammation. Furthermore, omega-3 fatty acids are known to have neuroprotective properties, and evidence is increasing for their protective effect on Alzheimer’s disease. Interest in EPA and DHA has grown based on diverse observations, and epidemiologic studies have shown that diets richer in fish are associated with reduced risk for dementia.

In a study that included 1,272 persons without dementia and 67 with dementia (all of whom were at least 75 years of age), which were followed for 7 years, EPA has been shown to have a protective effect on Alzheimer: A higher proportion of plasma levels of EPA was associated with a lower incidence of Alzheimer disease. During the 7-year follow-up period, 191 persons without dementia developed Alzheimer, and elevated EPA plasma levels correlated with decreased risk for Alzheimer.

Another recent research has concluded that higher levels of DHA and EPA in red blood cells may help protect against the development of dementia in older women (aged ≥65 years at the beginning of the study and over 10 years of follow-up): increase in DHA plus EPA was associated with a significantly lower risk of dementia, and this relationship was independent of known risk factors and predictors for dementia.

Collectively, these results support the potential role of omega-3 fatty acids in preventing Alzheimer disease.


van Lent DM, Weinhold L, Wolfsgruber S, et al. Eicosapentanoic acid but not docosahexaenoic acid is associated with Alzheimer’s disease risk in the oldest old. Presented at: 2018 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference. July 22-26, 2018; Chicago, IL. Abstract 22855.

Ammann EM, Pottala JV, Robinson JG, Espeland MA, Harris WS. Erythrocyte omega-3 fatty acids are inversely associated with incident dementia: Secondary analyses of longitudinal data from the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS). Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2017;121:68-75.

Devassy JG, Leng S, Gabbs M, Monirujjaman M, Aukema HM. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and Oxylipins in Neuroinflammation and Management of Alzheimer Disease. Adv Nutr. 2016;7(5):905-16.


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