Research update: cognitive decline & autism

Omega-3s aid in the clearance of brain-derived amyloid-β peptides – benefits for delaying cognitive decline


EPA & DHA are well known to be associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decling such as Alzheimer’s disease

The  marine-derived long-chain fatty acids EPA & DHA are well known to be associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease,  and a recent study has shed some interesting light on just how they may offer their protective effects.  The study, which was published in the highly regarded FASAB journal, has shown a direct link between brain levels of omega-3 and the efficiency of the brain’s clearance system in removing the abnormal protein aggregates that are associated with most neurodegenerative diseases. The study showed that omega-3 directly improves the function of the lymphatic system, thereby promoting the clearance of brain-derived amyloid-β peptides.

Researchers used a transgenic mouse model known to express and accumulate high brain levels of omega-3, to investigate the effect of EPA and DHA on the clearance function of the glymphatic system.  This specialised form of the lymphatic system promotes the efficient elimination of soluble proteins and other undesirable metabolites from the central nervous system.  Compared to the wild-type mice (with normal levels of omega-3), the transgenic mice were shown to have a higher clearance rate of waste products, including amyloid-β peptides which are the main component of the amyloid plaques – the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.  When the wild-type mice were supplemented with fish oil, they too were shown to have improved the clearance function of the lymphatic system compared to un-supplemented control mice.   Whilst these results may provide benefits for a number of neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease, the importance of the functioning of the lymphatic system also applies to a number of other health conditions including chronic fatigue syndrome and even migraine.  You can read the paper in full here.

These results also appear to support the hypothesis that low omega-3 status increases the risk for cognitive impairment in older age.  Indeed, a recent population-based study found a robust and significant association between cognitive status and omega-3 levels, with those individuals with an omega-3 index ≤5.7% found to be 1.8 times more likely to exhibit signs of cognitive decline than those with a higher omega-3 index as reported here.


Consuming 2-3 portions of oily fish per week can help increase the omega-3 index whilst also supplying an array of other important nutrients including amino acids, micronutrients and antioxidants.  For those not partial to fish consumption and because it is hard to know that the fish you consume deliver adequate doses of long-chain omega-3 (depending on where they are sourced, what they are fed and how they are cooked), it may also be worth supplementing with  a high concentration, purified fish oil.  A daily dose of Pharmepa MAINTAIN delivers 1g rTG omega-3 EPA and DHA, in small easy to swallow, lemon oil-infused capsules.

Vitamin D aids in the management of autism

A groundbreaking new study, published in the highly regarded Journal of child Psychology & Psychiatry, has shown that vitamin D supplements have similar effects to those of omega-3 fatty acids in the management of autism.  When children were allocated to receive vitamin D on a 7.5mg (300IU)/kg/day basis (thus highlighting the importance of personalised nutrition) or placebo, researchers reported significant improvements in social-communicative functioning, sensory processing issues and problem behaviours within just 4 months.

Any nutritional intervention that can make a difference to the lives of children with autism by reducing their symptoms will have considerable benefits in terms of social and emotional well-being as well as educational achievements.  Children with autism often have key nutrient deficits that can be linked directly to the severity of their symptoms, including vitamin D3, EPA & DHA.


With their direct role in brain development and functioning, omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most studied and safest alternatives to pharmaceuticals for managing symptoms, and it seems that the benefits of Pharmepa MAINTAIN may well be enhanced by the addition of vitamin D3.

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Dr Nina Bailey

About Dr Nina Bailey

Nina is a leading expert in marine fatty acids and their role in health and disease. Nina holds a master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition and received her doctorate from Cambridge University. Nina’s main area of interest is the role of essential fatty acids in inflammatory disorders. She is a published scientist and regularly features in national health publications and has featured as a nutrition expert on several leading and regional radio stations including SKY.FM, various BBC stations and London’s Biggest Conversation. Nina regularly holds training workshops and webinars both with the public and health practitioners.