The omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in seafood and marine oils called EPA and DHA may offer a simple, affordable way to reduce the effects of traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries by decreasing inflammation and nerve cell damage.
They may also protect against cognitive impairment that can follow surgery or critical illness. These encouraging findings and more are being presented at the 11th Congress of the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids (ISSFAL) in Stockholm 29 June-1 July, 2014.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI), resulting from combat, falls, traffic accidents and sports, is a leading cause of death in children and adults 1-44 years of age. In 2010 alone, there were more than 10 million TBIs worldwide. TBI is associated with long-term complications such as epilepsy, chronic headaches and neuropsychiatric disorders.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) from similar causes also results in severe disabilities, impaired sensorimotor function and chronic pain. The consequences of TBI and SCI include reduced blood flow and DHA levels, inflammation, swelling and cell death. Loss of certain types of cells impairs the ability of the brain to repair itself and can affect the nervous system. For both TBI and SCI, there are no specific treatments to protect against such damage.
However, intervention with DHA, EPA and other substances may preserve brain networks and connectivity, maintaining or improving memory, according to Adina Michael-Titus, D.Sc., professor of neuroscience, Centre for Neuroscience and Trauma, Blizard Institute, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, U.K.
"Research has demonstrated significant neuroprotective effects of DHA and EPA," she observes. "These omega-3 fatty acids may protect and regenerate nerve cells as well as reduce damaging inflammation. As a result, they have significant potential for the improved treatment of brain and spinal cord injuries."