Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are affecting more people worldwide every year, with a variety of factors involved, from education to genetics. Researchers have used the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and other techniques to see if dietary supplementation can make a difference in early stage disease. The results were published in the FASEB Journal.

Fish oil gel caps

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, gave patients a fish oil supplement drink containing omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants from Norwegian company Smartfish. The group included 2 patients with minor cognitive impairment (MCI), 2 patients with pre-MCI, and 7 patients with Alzheimer disease.

The team used PCR to measure the transcription of inflammatory genes, and also looked at cognition and levels monocyte phagocytosis of amyloid-? 1-42 (a peptide implicated in Alzheimer’s disease) and resolvin D1 (anti-inflammatory derivatives from omega-3 fatty acids, which stimulates amyloid-beta phagocytosis by monocytes).

In 80% of patients with MCI and pre-MCI, the PCR studies showed that transcription of mRNA from inflammatory genes was increased in patients with low levels at the beginning of the study, but not in those with initially high levels, suggesting a reduction in inflammation in neurological tissues. Breakdown of amyloid-? by white blood cells and the levels of resolvin D1 both increased patients with MCI and pre-MCI. However, the changes weren’t statistically significant in patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Cognition scores were similar at the beginning and the end of the study.

“Prevention of mild cognitive impairment progression is one of the best hopes,” said Milan Fiala, of the University of California’s Department of Surgery in Los Angeles. “In addition to physical and mental exercises recommended by experts, this study suggests that nutrition is equally important.”

In 2013, there were around 44.4 million people with dementia worldwide, potentially rising to 75.6 million in 2030, and 135.5 million in 2050. While this is mostly in the developing world, numbers are growing in China, India, and the Asia-Pacific region. If a simple and affordable solution like a supplement could help slow this devastating disease, then this, in combination with other approaches, could have a major impact in the developed and developing world.

This was a small study conducted over a maximum of 17 months, so the findings are limited, but suggest that further studies should be conducted.

“We’ve known for a long time that omega-3 fatty acids and some antioxidants can be beneficial to people with a wide range of health problems, as well as protective for healthy people,” says Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of the FASEB Journal. “Now, we know that the effects of these supplements may extend to Alzheimer’s disease as well. Although these supplements are considered to be generally safe and are very easy to obtain, full-scale clinical trials are necessary to verify the findings of this research and to identify who might benefit the most.”

While BJS Biotechnologies’ xxpress PCR was not involved in this study, its small footprint and rapid and reproducible results can support research in large and small laboratories, allowing researchers to evolve their investigations around the data.