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Science & Medicine: Omega 3 fatty acids to fight Alzheimer’s

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Roberto Martinez

If you’re in your 40s or 50s, there may be something you can do right now to fight Alzheimer’s disease. It involves Omega 3 fatty acids, which is found in fatty fish and fish oil and has been linked to lower rates of dementia.

“The thing is that most of those studies were done in older populations. And so we wanted to know what happens earlier because we know dementia starts decades before,” said Claudia Satizabal, Ph.D, assistant professor of population health sciences with the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio.

She investigated the impact of a diet that includes Omega 3 fatty acids on middle-aged people, and she explained what she found:

A particular structure in the brain was bigger in people with higher levels of Omega 3. And this structure is the hippocampus,” she said. And that is important because the hippocampus is one of the brain structures that tend to deteriorate in the process leading to Alzheimer's disease.”

Claudia Satizabal, PhD, speaking at TPR's Think Science event on June 7, 2023.
Kristin Quintanilla
Claudia Satizabal, PhD, speaking at TPR's Think Science event on June 7, 2023.

Participants with higher levels of Omega 3 in their blood also performed best in a type of cognitive testing that evaluates abstract reasoning.

“And I think it's exciting because it means you can do something about how you age that gives you agency to age better and preserve your brain, “it's something actively you can do to age better.”

Fatty fish can be expensive, and it’s difficult to get in neighborhoods without access to full-service grocery stores. Fish oil supplements, while convenient, can also be expensive. Satizabal says there is an alternative that’s more affordable and accessible.

“Those are canned fish foods. I buy cans of mackerel because I love it, but there's also sardines. Those are really high in omega 3,” she said.

Here is a list of 12 foods that are very high in omega-3:

  • Mackerel (4,580 mg per serving)
  • Salmon (2,150 mg per serving)
  • Cod liver oil (2,438 mg per serving)
  • Herring (2,150 mg per serving)
  • Oysters (329 mg per serving)
  • Sardines (1,463 mg per serving)
  • Anchovies (411 mg per serving)
  • Caviar (1,046 mg per serving)

Satizabal is the principal investigator of the San Antonio Heart and Mind Study, which will assess Mexican Americans and dementia risk. She encourages people of all ages, genders, and ethnic backgrounds to participate in medical research.

“It's thanks to the participation of people from the community that we can come up with these answers. And if anyone in the community is curious and would like to participate, we have all kinds of studies.”

You can find more information on how to participate in research at The UT Health Science Center San Antonio here.

Science & Medicine is a collaboration between TPR and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, about how scientific discovery in San Antonio advances the way medicine is practiced everywhere.