The study has been conducted at the Columbia University Medical Center. In the study, neonatal mice (ten days old) were conditioned to suffer stroke that caused brain damage (hypoxic-ischemic brain injury). The mice were then injected with a fat emulsion that contained specific types of omega-3 fatty acids (either DHA or EPA).
These bioactive omega-3 fatty acids
found in certain foods and supplements. In particular booth eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are both commonly found in marine oils.
The types of strokes conditioned in the mice are commonly suffered by people and relate to a lack of oxygen and blood flow getting to the brain. The reason for focusing on newly born mice was because a serious injury can occur with newborn human babies where there is a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
The study built upon previous studies that have indicated that certain omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in oils from cold-water fish, can reduce inflammation and lower the rate of cell death following oxygen deprivation.
With the mice, it was found that neurological function improved with the DHA fatty acid with 24 hours, but the same effect did not occur with the EPA fatty acid. This improvement continued up to eight to nine weeks afterwards.
Post-mortem examinations showed there were higher concentrations of DHA in the brain mitochondria of the mice suggesting that there had been an improvement in blood flow to the damaged regions of the brain.
Discussing the findings, lead researcher Dr. Vadim S. Ten told Bioscience Technology
: “Our findings suggest that injecting the omega-3 fatty acid DHA after a stroke-like event has the ability to protect brain mitochondria against the damaging effects of free radicals.”
Importantly, studies on animals do not necessarily translate to the same effects on people and further work will be required to determine if the same neuroprotective effects would be seen in babies and adults after a stroke-like brain injury.
The findings have been published in
the journal PLOS ONE
. The research paper is headed “DHA but Not EPA Emulsions Preserve Neurological and Mitochondrial Function after Brain Hypoxia-Ischemia in Neonatal Mice.”