Can Vitamin D, Fish Oil Combat Alzheimer’s?

Monday, 11 Feb 2013 02:20 PM

By Nick Tate

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A team of UCLA researchers has determined how vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acids boost the immune system's ability to clear the brain of plaques associated with Alzheimer's disease.

The findings, published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, indicate key genes and body processes regulated by vitamin D3 and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) — present in fish oil and supplements —help control inflammation and clear amyloid-beta proteins found in plaques that cloud thinking in Alzheimer’s patients.

The study builds on previous laboratory work by the team that helped identify the key mechanisms involved in plaque formation.

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"Our new study sheds further light on a possible role for nutritional substances such as vitamin D3 and omega-3 in boosting immunity to help fight Alzheimer's," said Milan Fiala, M.D., a researcher at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California-Los Angeles.

For the study, scientists drew blood samples from both Alzheimer's patients and healthy individuals, then isolated immune cells called macrophages from the blood that gobble up amyloid-beta proteins in the brain and body. The researchers then treated the immune cells with vitamin D3 and DHA, and found both  improved the macrophages’ ability to eat up amyloid-beta proteins.

More study is needed, Dr. Fiala said, but added: "We may find that we need to carefully balance the supplementation with vitamin D3 and omega-3 fatty acids, depending on each patient in order to help promote efficient clearing of amyloid-beta. This is a first step in understanding what form and in which patients these nutrition substances might work best."

The study was funded, in part, by the Alzheimer's Association. Fiala is a consultant for the Smartfish Co., which produces a drink with an active form of omega-3 DHA.

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