Omega-3 fish oil may protect against neurological damage and risks of subsequent dementia that can result from alcohol abuse, a U.S. study suggests.

High alcohol levels can cause inflammation and death of brain cells, but fish oil has been found to protect the cells from such impacts, researchers at the Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine say.

Writing in the journal PLOS ONE, the researchers describe experiments with rats that demonstrated 90 percent reductions in inflammation and cell death in brains exposed to alcohol along with fish oil than in cells exposed to alcohol alone.

The brain cells of rats were exposed to alcohol levels at about four times that considered a legal limit for driving, a level often seen in people with chronic alcoholism, the researchers said.

That study suggests fish oil may create be a benefit for humans, the researchers say.

"Fish oil has the potential of helping preserve brain integrity in chronic alcohol abusers," researcher Michael Collins said in a statement. "At the very least, it is unlikely that it would hurt them."

The researchers were behind an earlier meta-analysis of 75 previous studies conducted with the University of Kentucky and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that suggested moderate, social drinking -- two drinks a day in men and one drink per day in women -- might reduce risks of dementia and cognitive impairment brought on by aging.

"It appears that limited amounts of alcohol might, in effect, tend to make brain cells more fit," they said. "Alcohol in moderate amounts stresses cells and thus toughens them up to cope with major stresses and insults down the road that could cause dementia."

However, they emphasized, excessive alcohol consumption will overwhelm brain cells and result in inflammation and eventual cell death and they in no way endorse drinking to excess.

Those with alcohol problems can best protect the health of their brains by reducing their consumption of alcohol to low or moderate amounts or abandoning it altogether, Collins said.

"We don't want people to think it is okay to take a few fish oil capsules and then continue to go on abusing alcohol," he said.

Further studies should be conducted to confirm the findings of fish oil effects on brain cells exposed to alcohol, the researchers said.

Excessive consumption of alcohol results is around 88,000 deaths yearly, either from accidents or chronic diseases such as alchohol-induced dementia, figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.

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