Alexander B. Niculescu, M.D., Ph.D., looking at samples in his lab. (Photo: communications.medicine.iu.edu)
Omega-3 combats bipolar disorder, alcoholism: study
Wednesday, June 01, 2011, 02:40 (GMT + 9)
A new study from the Indiana University School of Medicine has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help people suffering from mental imbalances such as bipolar disorder as well as alcoholism. Researchers found that the consumption of the fatty acid DHA “normalised“ the behavior of bipolar mice.
"The mice that were given DHA normalized their behavior, they were not depressed and when subjected to stress, they did not become manic,” expounded Alexander B Niculescu, MD, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and the lead author of the study. “When we looked into their brains, using comprehensive gene expression studies, we were surprised to see that genes that are known targets of psychiatric medications were modulated and normalized by DHA."
Omega-3 fatty acids, or polyunsaturated fatty acids, are vital to brain function and normal growth and development. They may also cut the risk of heart disease, which is why the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends eating fatty fish such as mackerel, lake trout, herring, sardines, albacore tuna and salmon at least twice weekly.
The mice in the study were made addicted to alcohol, and it was found that the DHA affected this behaviour as well, reports the journal Translational Psychiatry.
"These bipolar mice, like some bipolar patients, love alcohol,” Niculescu said. “The mice on DHA drank much less; it curtailed their alcohol abusive behaviour.”
“We believe a diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids may help the treatment and prevention of bipolar disorder, and may help with alcoholism as well," he concluded.
DHA, the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain and retina, makes up 40 per cent of the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the brain and 60 per cent of the ones in the retina; 50 per cent of the weight of a neuron's plasma membrane is comprised of DHA.
A deficiency of DHA thus has an impact on the normal transmission of signals across membranes in the brain and may accelerate aging and cause health problems such as behavioural disorders, depression, hyperactivity, postpartum depression, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, cancer and diabetes.
Niculescu said sufficient evidence now exists to confirm that, at the molecular level, omega-3 fatty acids work on the brain similarly to psychiatric drugs.
“With these biomarker findings, we can now move forward as a field and do more targeted clinical studies in humans," he added.
Countries whose populations make a habit of eating fish are correlated with the lowest rates of depression, according to Translational Psychiatry.
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By Natalia Real