Omega 3 for the aging brain: Fatty acids protect nerves through transporter protein, study uncovers
05 May 2023 --- Scientists have demonstrated findings supporting omega 3’s reduction of damaging effects on the aging brain. This action happens through a special transporter protein critical in regulating brain cells, protected by myelin sheaths – coverings that protect nerves. The study was done by researchers from Duke-NUS Medical School and the National University of Singapore.
Myelin sheaths facilitate electrical signals effectively and quickly. When damaged, neurological diseases may be developed as nerves lose their ability to function. Naturally, as we age, the researchers stress that myelin sheaths tend to degenerate, which is why physical and mental abilities might be lost as we age.
“Loss of myelin sheaths occurs during the normal aging process and in neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease,” says Dr. Sengottuvel Vetrivel, lead investigator of the study and senior research fellow with Duke-NUS’ Cardiovascular & Metabolic Disorders (CVMD) Program.
“Developing therapies to improve myelination – the formation of the myelin sheath – in aging and disease is of great importance to ease any difficulties caused by declining myelination.”
Functional fatty acids
Published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the scientists investigated the role of the protein Mfsd2a that transports lysophosphatidylcholine (LPC) – a lipid that contains an omega 3 fatty acid – into the brain throughout the myelination process.
“Our study indicates that LPC omega 3 lipids act as factors within the brain to direct oligodendrocyte development, a process critical for brain myelination,” explains Professor David Silver, senior author of the study and deputy director of the CVMD Programme.
“This opens up potential avenues to develop therapies and dietary supplements based on LPC omega 3 lipids that might help retain myelin in the aging brain – and possibly to treat patients with neurological disorders stemming from reduced myelination,” Silver adds.
Silver adds that they aim to conduct preclinical studies to determine if dietary LPC omega 3 can help re-myelinate damaged axons in the brain.
“We hope supplements containing these fats can help maintain – or even improve – brain myelination and cognitive function during aging.”
Omega 3 has previously been highlighted for its potential to slow the aging process and reduce heart disease risk.
Omega 3 and brain research
Aker BioMarine, a Norwegian krill oil supplier, recently signed a science agreement with Dr. Silver to expand brain research and omega 3 from krill.
“Professor Silver has been relentless in investigating the far-reaching role of Msdf2a ever since he discovered this important lipid transport protein, alluding to the many possible ways of treating not only the aging brain but also other organs in which the protein plays a role,” says professor Patrick Casey, senior-vice dean for research at Duke-NUS Medical School.
“It’s exciting to watch professor Silver and his team shape our understanding of these specialized lipids’ roles through their many discoveries.”
Earlier this year, US-based researchers found that LPC-DHA supplements could prevent Alzheimer’s-related declines in visual function and be helpful for other disorders in which DHA deficiency and vision impairment are common. The study was conducted on mice, and the dosage used was equivalent to about 250 to 500 mg of omega 3 fatty acids per day in humans.
Edited by Beatrice Wihlander
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