Researchers from the University of Illinois might have found a way to increase the levels of omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA to promote brain health.
In an experiment, the researchers added a lysophospholipid form of EPA (LPC-EPA) in the diet of mice. They found that it significantly increased the levels of EPA in the brain.
The results were published in the Journal of Lipid Research in December.
DHA and EPA have been proven to protect the brain against neurological disorders. There is evidence that the omega 3 fatty acids help fight against Alzheimer's disease because of its anti-amyloid, anti-tau, and anti-inflammatory effects.
In addition, DHA has been linked to good memory and improve cognitive deficits associated with dementia. EPA, on the other hand, is said to treat depression.
While there are supplements in the market that promises to provide the brain with the necessary DHA and EPA to improve cognitive function, scientists have cast doubts over whether these products are effective.
DHA is already pretty abundant in the brain, but the body gets EPA through food such as fish. However, even if a person consumes a lot of fish or takes fish oil supplement every day, the level of EPA in the brain does not get a boost. A person has to ingest a large amount of EPA — about 40 to 50 milliliters a day — to see an improvement.
"In order to do the trials to determine the proper dosage and how EPA works in regards to depression, we need to have a better way of getting it into the brain because you need to consume so much of it that its just not practical, at least for human trials," explained Papasani Subbaiah, a professor at the University of Illinois in Chicago and author of the study.
Instead of upping the dosage of omega-3 fatty acids, the researchers found a workaround. By adding LPC-EPA into their diets, patients can significantly increase the levels of EPA in the brain and, therefore, reap its health benefits.
Moreover, the researchers believe that patients do not have to consume as much LPC-EPA in order for it to be effective.
When they fed LPC-EPA-rich pellets to lab mice for 15 days, the researchers found that the animals had 100 times more EPA in their brains. Surprisingly, they also observed that the mice had increased levels of DHA.
"This study is proof of the concept that we can increase levels of both EPA and DHA in the brain via supplements or by incorporating LPC-EPA in the diet," added Subbaiah.
The next step of the study is to see if increasing the amount of LPC-EPA would have positive effects on the brain. They will test whether omega-3 fatty acids can prevent and even treat depression and Alzheimer's, first in mice and then eventually in humans.