Long-term alcohol abuse increases the risk of dementia, but Loyola University scientists say an omega-3 fish oil compound appears to protect the brain from inflammation and cell death. The study, by Michael A. Collins, was presented last week at the 14th Congress of the European Society for Biomedical Research on Alcoholism in Warsaw, Poland.
Collins explained that alcohol in moderate amounts stresses cells and thus toughens them up to cope with major stresses down the road that could cause dementia. But too much alcohol overwhelms the cells, leading to inflammation and cell death.
In the new study, Collins and his co-researchers exposed cultures of adult rat brain cells to amounts of alcohol equivalent to more than four times the legal limit for driving. These cell cultures were compared with cultures of brain cells exposed to the same high levels of alcohol, plus a compound found in fish oil called omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
The researchers found there was about 90 percent less neuroinflammation and neuronal death in the brain cells exposed to DHA and alcohol than in the cells exposed to alcohol alone.
"Fish oil has the potential of helping preserve brain integrity in abusers," Collins said. "At the very least, it wouldn't hurt them." He added that the best way for an alcohol abuser to protect the brain is, if possible, to quit drinking or cut back to moderate amounts. "We don't want people to think it's okay to take a few fish oil capsules and then continue to go on abusing alcohol."
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Source: Loyola University Health System