Fish Oil May Prevent Dementia in Alcoholics
Alcoholism takes its toll in many ways. The physical health of a heavy drinker is seriously impacted by alcohol. Over the long term, alcoholism can lead to liver disease, pancreatitis, heart disease, hypertension and several types of cancer. Alcoholism also causes neurological problems including dementia. Being an alcoholic is also a risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease, which includes dementia as a major symptom. New research is looking at ways to reduce the damage and even prevent dementia in alcoholics and fish oil may play a major role.
It should come as no surprise that long-term, heavy drinking has a negative impact on both the body and the brain of the drinker. Excessive use of alcohol has been shown to cause alcohol-related dementia as well as a similar condition called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. The latter is caused by a deficiency in a B vitamin, which can result from excessive drinking. Exactly how alcohol leads to symptoms of dementia is not entirely known, but researchers have found that it causes functional and structural damage in the brain. Much of this damage is believed to be permanent.
Fish Oil and Brain Health
Fish oil has long been known to support the health of the brain because it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Fish oil is often cited as an important source of this essential type of fat, but you can also find it in olive oil, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts and other foods. There are a number of health issues associated with insufficient intake of omega-3 fatty acids, including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and general cognitive decline. Research also shows that supplementing the diet with omega-3 fats can protect against the development of these conditions.
Fish Oil for Alcoholic Dementia
Putting the evidence together, it seems that omega-3 fatty acids could help long-term drinkers protect their brains against the type of decline that alcohol causes. Recent research has made the connection definite. A study conducted at Loyola University’s medical school in Chicago found that fish oil can protect against damage in the brain and resulting dementia in alcohol abusers.
The study was not conducted with human subjects, but is promising nonetheless. The researchers used cultures of rat brain tissue. They exposed the brain cells to high amounts of alcohol for several days. The amounts were meant to mimic what chronic drinkers typically consume. They added an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil to half of the cultures. In the cultures with the fish oil supplement, the cells experienced up to 90 percent less inflammation than those that received only alcohol. The cells with the fish oil were also less likely to die from the exposure to alcohol.
The next step in studying the ability of fish oil to protect brain cells from alcohol is to test the idea on living, adult rats. If lab rats can be protected from the negative impact of alcohol, the possibility of helping alcoholics will be very promising. While giving up drinking may be the best thing for an alcoholic, being able to protect the brain in the meantime could be important and could save many people from cognitive decline later in life. More studies are needed, but researchers agree that there is no harm in supplementing a diet with fish oil or other omega-3-rich foods.