B vitamins work more effectively to protect memory in combination with omega-3 fatty acids. [Photo: Bigstock]

B-vitamin/omega-3 combo helps protect memory

21 March, 2016

Natural Health News — An international team of scientists have found that having higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in your body could enhance the memory boosting effects of B vitamins.

The team, from the Universities of Cape Town, Oslo, Oxford and the United Arab Emirates, studied more than 250 people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in Oxford.

MCI is when brain function is below what is normally expected for a person’s age but is not significant enough to interfere with daily life. While it is not as serious as dementia, if untreated it often progresses to become dementia.

What you need to know

» Previous research has shown that supplementing with B-vitamins can help slow memory decline in people with mild cognitive e impairment.

» Now a new study has shown that having higher levels of omega-3 in your body can enhance the memory-sparing effect of B vitamins.

» The findings provide encouraging news that for some older people a combination of fish oil supplements and B vitamins may help prevent brain atrophy and improve thinking and memory.

Fighting the effects of homocysteine

The team had previously found that B vitamins are able to slow or prevent the atrophy of the brain and memory decline in people with MCI. This was most effective in those who had above average blood levels of homocysteine, a chemical in the blood that is produced when the amino acid (a building block of protein) called methionine is broken down in the body. High levels of homocysteine can be toxic to the brain.

The scientists also found that there was a link between omega-3 levels, homocysteine, and brain atrophy rates. It was this link that they sought to explore further in the latest study.

At the start of the study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, each person was given a set of tests to measure their cognition, and had a blood test to determine the levels of two omega-3 fatty acids commonly found in oily fish: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

The participants were split into two randomly-selected groups, that received either a B-vitamin supplement or a placebo pill over two years. Their cognitive performance was also measured and the results compared with those taken at the start of the study.

Slowing memory decline

Researcher Dr Abderrahim Oulhaj of United Arab Emirates University said: “We found that for people with low levels of omega-3, the vitamin supplements had little to no effect. But for those with high baseline omega-3 levels, the B vitamins were very effective in preventing cognitive decline compared to the placebo. This result complements our previous finding that B vitamins slow the rate of brain atrophy in MCI only in those with a good omega-3 level to start with.”

The team also found that levels of DHA might be more important than levels of EPA, although more research needs to be done to understand why this might be so, and who is most likely to benefit from the combination of omega-3 and B vitamins.

Even so, these results provide encouraging news that for some older people a combination of fish oil supplements and B vitamins may help to improve thinking and memory.

The next stage, say the team, will be to see whether providing a combination of B vitamins and omega-3 supplements can slow the conversion from MCI to Alzheimer’s disease. This would be an important step in improving our understanding or the role that diet and nutrition can play in reducing a person’s risk of dementia.