Is memory loss normal with old age?

This question was discussed in the Huffington Post editorial, Is Memory Loss Normal with Age? The answer: yes! A little memory loss is expected as we grow older, described by the AAMI phenomenon. Although the brain continues to produce new brain cells at any age, there will be some inevitable problems that may occur to each of us related to brain health.

What is memory loss?

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The slowing of our metal processes may be associated with the what we call “memory loss”. You may become forgetful as you age. However, this can also be a sign of a more serious illness. Symptoms of memory loss range from simple inability to remember events to having trouble remembering your own address. The severity can vary from person to person and while some may experience short term memory loss, others may experience long term effects.

Everyone forgets things now and then, but our brains seem to be taking a heavier toll as we age. Other factors may also contribute to memory loss at old age. Lack of nutrition for example may affect the body and mental health in certain ways.

A study conducted in 2010 found that people who have diets rich in omega-3 have a 40% lowered risk of developing Alzheimer’s, a widely known condition which affects millions of people worldwide. According to fightdementia.org, there are 332, 000 Australians with dementia and it’s expected to increase to 400, 000 in less than ten years. Dementia is often used to define cognitive decline such as forgetfulness and memory loss.

Age-related memory loss can be caused by:

  1. Deterioration of hippocampus as we age, the brain region that formulates and retrieves memories.
  2. Decline of hormones and proteins responsible for brain cells repair and neural growth.
  3. With age, the brain gets decreased blood flow causing impairment in memory and problem with cognition.
  4. As we age, our body experiences problems with absorbance of brain enhancing nutrients.

Studies on Omega-3 and Memory Loss

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In a study published by PLOS ONE, it was found that omega-3 benefits the brain, boosting the working memory of young adults by 23%. The study focused on 18-25 year olds who were asked to take fish oil capsules for six months. These capsules each contained 2000 mg of omega-3. Memory recall of the studied participants was later tested.

Now, if omega-3 helps young adult brains, what benefits can it possibly give to older people? Scientific literature on said topic is continuously growing. Let’s check out several of the studies conducted:

Columbia University Medical Center Study

Researchers from New York’s Columbia University Medical Center with lead author Dr. Nikolas Scarmeas studied the effects of omega-3 in lowering the risk of developing memory problems as well as Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr. Scarmeas and his team recruited 1219 people over the age of 35 for the study. They followed the diets of these people for more than a year and tested their blood for beta-amylod, a protein in the body that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease and memory problems.

Those who had a higher intake of omega-3 in their diet were found to have lower amyloid level. This study is published in American Academy of Neurology journal.

Sydney Study

In a Sydney University study led by the University’s Brain and Mind Research Institute, it was found that an anti-depressant called sertraline and omega-3 supplements helped in reducing symptoms of depression and dementia later in life.

The study randomized subjects taking omega-3 supplements or placebos for 12 weeks. Prior to that, these participants received MRI scanning regularly. After the 12 week period, participants underwent another MRI scan. The scan showed that people who took the placebo had greater brain matter changes which increased their depressive symptoms. According to Dr. Sharon Naismith, lead author, this may lead to cognitive decline and dementia with age.

Based on the study, researchers inferred that the use of fish oil or the inclusion of omega-3 in one’s diet may help stabilize the brain inflammation and prevent depression as well as the decline of cognition.

Framingham Heart Study

In a study led by Dr. Zaldy Tan, it was found that older adults between the ages of 58 and 76 with the lowest levels of omega-3 in their red blood cells have “older” brains compared to their counterparts. These subjects also had more noticeable patterns of cognitive impairment.

The study included 1575 participants. These participants were dementia-free and were tested based on verbal memory, visuospatial memory, abstract reasoning, executive functioning and attention.

The study found that participants with the lowest DHA and EPA levels in their blood had lower brain volumes that equated to 2-year structural brain aging and increased white matter in the brain. They also performed poorly on the tests mentioned above.

This study supports the idea that fish or fish oil consumption is associated with a lowered risk of dementia and cognitive decline.

Rhode Island Study

Another study that aimed to research the relationship between omega-3 and brain health was conducted by a team of researchers from a Rhode Island Hospital. Principal investigator Lorie Daiello, PharmD together with her team studied 819 older adults.

The findings, published in Alzheimer’s and Dementia journal, had the older adults undergo MRI scanning and psychological tests every six months. Among the study participants, 229 were cognitively normal while 397 participants were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. The remaining total, 193 participants, were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

The findings were: for those who were diagnosed with dementia before the study, the fish oil supplement administered increased cognitive preservation. Those with the normal cognition were found to have less brain shrinkage in several key neurological areas.

Omega-3 Sources

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So if omega-3 can help with brain health, where should you get the right amount of omega-3 from?

Omega-3 can be ingested from many different sources. The most famous source is fish oil.

Marine life such as fish, calamari and krill contain high amount of omega-3. Plant sources such as chia seeds contain high amounts of fatty acids although it needs to be processed by the body first before it can be converted to usable fatty acids EPA and DHA.

Fish, calamari and krill meals are suggested to increase the body’s omega-3 intake. However, this can take a lot of fish, so omega-3 capsules are prefered by most. These capsules are the go-to supplement when in need of high levels of omega-3. Manufacturers offer concentrated capsules which can be tailored to your needs. Some supplements may be differentiated based on their DHA and EPA content. Doctors may recommend varying amounts of DHA and EPA according to specific dietary needs.

Can Calamari Oil Reduce Age Related Memory Loss?

Calamari contains more DHA content compared to other marine-sourced omega-3 supplements. In another study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it was found that omega-3 can be good for people of all ages. They concluded that 1.16 grams of DHA can improve the brain’s reaction time and working memory.

DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is seven times more effective in calamari capsules compared to krill oil and four times more compared to equivalent sized standard fish capsules. EPA may be less active in calamari oil compared to fish oil.

DHA has been associated with good brain health, specifically helping with memory. It is also associated with reduced learning difficulties among children whose mothers took omega-3 supplements during pregnancy. DHA is responsible for the reduction of age-related cognitive decline. Other benefits related to brain health include:

  1. Infant mental development.
  2. Improves brain and nervous system functioning.
  3. Adult and children mental function support throughout life.
  4. Positive effects on behavioural and mood disorders among children and adults.
  5. DHA is also known to be beneficial for eye and heart health.

What are you waiting for? Increase your omega-3 intake today!

About Author

Roelen researches, creates, tailors content for outreach and content promotion campaigns as well as social presence management. She likes poetry, blues, The Walking Dead and crime books.