Health Features

A Healthy Boost

Heart disease and senior dementia are two of our nation’s most pressing health concerns, but did you know they can be related? Dr. Denise Hooks-Anderson, St. Louis board president for the American Heart Association, says recent research suggests omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk of dementia in people with heart disease.

There’s good evidence that omega-3 has cardiovascular and metabolic benefits,” Hooks-Anderson says. “It helps control blood clotting and builds cell membranes. It also can help lower triglycerides, untreated high blood pressure and heart rate, which may help prevent atherosclerosis in blood vessels and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.” It’s thought that cardiovascular problems like these can contribute to dementia because of their effects on blood vessels in the brain.

“The recent study looked at 250 people with coronary artery disease,” Hooks-Anderson says. “Half took omega-3 supplements, and the other half served as a control group. People who took the supplements showed better physical coordination, reaction speed, memory and recall over time than members of the control group.”

Omega-3 fatty acids aren’t made by the body; they have to be taken as supplements or included in your diet. Hooks-Anderson says supplements are available over the counter or by prescription, and omega-3 is found naturally in some nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables and fatty fish like mackerel, trout and albacore tuna. It is recommended to eat two servings of these fish per week, she notes. If you prefer to take supplements, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about the right dose.

Hooks-Anderson says factors like genetics also play a role in heart disease and dementia risk. “Certain groups can be affected differently by cardiovascular disease,” she says. “For example, African-Americans have higher rates of hypertension and are more affected by stroke. It’s important to look at populations that could benefit most from omega-3, as well as changes in diet, exercise and lifestyle.”

She notes that while the study’s findings are preliminary, they offer hope for people at risk for heart disease and dementia. “More research is coming, and we think omega-3 may show health benefits in other areas as well,” she says.