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Diet with enough alpha-linolenic acid protects against dementia

Walnuts, chia seeds, linseed and other plant products contain alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. If you don't consume enough of this you may be more likely to develop dementia than if your diet does contain enough alpha-linolenic acid. Researchers at the University of Tsukuba in Japan report on this in Clinical Nutrition.

The researchers used data on about 7586 Japanese people who were aged 40-74 in the years 1984-1994. During this period researchers analysed the amount of omega-3 fatty acids there was in the subjects' blood.

315 participants developed dementia during the decade 1994-2004. In their study the researchers compared the blood composition of these participants with that of 630 participants who did not have dementia.


The researchers found no relationship between the amount of DHA and EPA in the participants' blood and whether or not they had dementia.

Diet with enough alpha-linolenic acid protects against dementia

Diet with enough alpha-linolenic acid protects against dementia

However, the amount of alpha-linolenic acid in the blood of the participants did correlate with the likelihood of developing dementia: the participants with relatively low levels of alpha-linolenic acid in their blood developed dementia almost twice as often as the participants with a higher level of this omega-3 fatty acid.

An exceptionally high intake of alpha-linolenic acid did not offer extra protection against dementia, and the figure above even suggests that the protective effect is less at very high intake levels.

Alpha-linolenic acid
Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid. It's found in chia seed, flaxseed and flaxseed oil, hemp oil, walnuts and rapeseed oil. According to the European EFSA, adults should consume about 2 g alpha-linolenic acid daily. [The EFSA Journal. 2009; 1176, 111.] That amount of alpha-linolenic acid is found in one tablespoon of chia seed.

Diet with enough alpha-linolenic acid protects against dementia

"Serum proportions of alpha-linolenic acid were inversely associated with risk of 238 disabling dementia among Japanese", the researchers summarised. "This suggests that low alpha-linolenic acid intake may carry a potential risk of dementia."

"Although the causality needs to be confirmed by randomized control trials, we identified serum alpha-linolenic acid as a biomarker that predicts future dementia."

Clin Nutr. 2016 May 24. pii: S0261-5614(16)30106-6.

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