I usually glance at animal study results. I always wonder if the study designs could apply to humans, and if they could, can similar results be expected? One such study that caught my eye recently is the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) study that found that a high intake of fructose impairs learning (no surprise there) and suggests that adding omega-3 fatty acids can help minimize the damage (hmm, now that’s an interesting thought).
The UCLA researchers theorize that consuming an abundance of fructose impairs the brain’s ability to learn and remember information. They studied two groups of rats fed “rat chow” and fructose, and one group also received omega-3 fatty acids (flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid or DHA). The rats were given this experimental diet for 6 weeks. The rats had been trained to navigate a Barnes maze and after the 6 weeks had passed; the rats were tested in the same maze.
The rats given flaxseed oil and DHA in addition to fructose negotiated the maze much faster than the rats that did not receive the omega-3 fatty acids. The researchers also note that the rats not given omega-3s developed signs of insulin resistance in this short time. They theorize that dietary n-3 fatty acid deficiency elevates vulnerability to metabolic dysfunction and impaired cognitive functions by modulating insulin receptor signalling and synaptic plasticity.
Although I read that rat brain physiology differs from human brain physiology and that the “dose” of fructose that the rats received is equivalent to something like 50 cans of soda per day, the study findings are nonetheless intriguing. The protective effects of omega-3s appear promising, and many people are already eating foods containing or are supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids, so eating/taking omega-3s is not something new and radical. And who knows, it may have some degree of health benefit to humans as well.
Agrawal R, Gomez-Pinilla F. ‘Metabolic syndrome' in the brain: deficiency in omega-3 fatty acid exacerbates dysfunctions in insulin receptor signalling and cognition. J Physiol 2012; 590: 2485-249