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18 July 2014 - MNT - Can fish oil protect against brain damage caused by alcohol abuse?

David McNamee

According to a new study in PLOS ONE, omega-3 fish oil could protect against damage to the brain caused by alcohol abuse.

Previous studies have suggested that long-term alcohol abuse causes brain damage and increases the risk of dementia.

However, researchers who conducted this recent study - previously performed a meta-analysis that found drinking alcohol at moderate, social levels - a maximum of two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women - may reduce risk of dementia and cognitive impairment during aging.

The team reasons that alcohol in moderate amounts "toughens up" brain cells, which makes them more resilient to damage, but that excessive amounts of alcohol overwhelms the cells, causing neuroinflammation and cell death.

To investigate the extent to which omega-3 fish oil may protect against this damage, the researchers conducted a new experiment: Over several days, they exposed the cell cultures to alcohol concentrations the equivalent of four times the legal limit for driving. This level of alcohol exposure is similar to that seen in chronic alcoholics.

The researchers then compared the brain cultures with other cultures that had also been exposed to the same levels of alcohol, but with the addition of the omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) compound found in fish oil.

The team observed that there was up to 90% less neuroinflammation and neuronal death in the brain cells that had been exposed to DHA than in the cells that had just been exposed to alcohol.

"Fish oil has the potential of helping preserve brain integrity in chronic alcohol abusers," says study author Michael A. Collins, PhD. "At the very least, it is unlikely that it would hurt them."