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Health Team

Researchers Look at Fish-Oil Compound as Alzheimer's Antidote

Posted November 30, 2007 2:21 p.m. EST
Updated December 1, 2007 8:56 a.m. EST

— Millions of Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and that number will only rise as baby boomers age. Researchers have been looking for a treatment, and a group of scientists thinks a compound in fish may hold promise.

One of the people a treatment might help is Jack Hornfelt. Alzheimer’s taking his memories, and it could eventually take his life. He hopes not.

“I have seven grandchildren and want to see them grow up,” Hornfelt said.

Now, he is part of an experimental study that is testing a compound found in fish oil.

”Fish oils do protect against Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Anil Nair of Boston University, one of the researchers.

A new wave of research shows the Omega 3 fatty acids in fish oil can help the mind as well as the heart.

Nair and the other scientists at Boston University believe one of the Omega 3s, one called DHA, may be the key ingredient.

DHA is sold in stores as a health supplement. It's also used in mothers’ prenatal vitamins to help with a baby's brain development. In this study, doctors are giving patients a "superdose" to see if it can disrupt the process of Alzheimer’s.

Physicians believe the disease starts when a plaque called amyloid builds up in the brain. DHA may counteract that buildup.

“We're trying to see if that can slow down the development of amyloid and, therefore, Alzheimer’s disease,” Nair said.

The first results from the BU study are due in 2009. Hornfelt hopes the news is good for him and future patients – people he knows as well as ones he doesn’t.

“I have children who may be affected, too,” Hornfelt said.

Doctors estimate that in 20 years, close to 8 million Americans will have Alzheimer’s disease unless a treatment is found. That could mean very large medical care expenses as well as personal anguish.