Supplements of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexanoic acid) may prevent traumatic brain injury, according to a new study with rats with potential implications for sportsmen and soldiers.
Researchers from West Virginia University report that rats who received the highest dose of DHA supplementation prior to traumatic brain injury experienced the least amount of tissue damage.
The results, albeit preliminary, have been described as “intriguing” by Dr Julian Bailes, lead researcher of the study. If the study’s findings are repeated in additional studies then it may see DHA recommended for people at high risk of traumatic brain injury, like military personnel and athletes who participate in contact sports.
Indeed, a study funded by Martek Biosciences Corporation is currently underway with the Center for the Study of Retired Athletes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as to whether DHA affects long-term brain function in retired National Football League players. Dr. Bailes serves as a consultant for Martek.
"The essential concept of daily dietary supplementation with DHA, so that those at significant risk may be preloaded to provide protection against the acute effects of [traumatic brain injury], has tremendous public health implications," wrote the West Virginia-based researchers.
“The potential for DHA to provide prophylactic benefit to the brain against traumatic injury appears promising and requires further investigation,” they added.
Writing in the journal Neurosurgery, Dr Bailes and his co-workers report results of their study, which involved groups of 16 adult male rats. The animals received daily DHA doses of 0, 3, 12, or 40 mg/kg for 30 days prior to a traumatic brain injury.
Results showed that animals receiving the highest dose had significantly reduced brain tissue damage, compared to the other animals.
Specifically, levels of beta amyloid precursor protein (APP), an anatomical marker of brain injury, with only 1.15 APP positive axons per high power field in the high dose group, compared with 6.78 in un-supplemented animals.
Furthermore, the high-dose animals also had decreased expression of caspase 3 and macrophages, which are noted as key indicators of brain cell death. DHA was also associated with reduced behavioral impairment, as measured by performance in a water maze.
“Dietary supplementation with DHA increases serum levels and, if given prior to traumatic brain injury, reduces the injury response, as measured by axonal injury counts, markers for cellular injury and apoptosis, and memory assessment by water maze testing,” state the researchers.
February 2011, Volume 68, Issue 2, Pages 474-481
“Dietary Supplementation With the Omega-3 Fatty Acid Docosahexaenoic Acid in Traumatic Brain Injury?”
Authors: J.D. Mills, K. Hadley, J.E. Bailes