This new omega-3 can save Alzheimer’s patients from vision loss

Scientists test LPC DHA in mice with Alzheimer's. LPC DHA is a new form of omega-3 fatty acid that can improve retina health and save people from visual impairments.
Rupendra Brahambhatt
The optic nerve and its visual link to the brain stock photo.
The optic nerve and its visual link to the brain stock photo.

jitendrajadhav/iStock 

People with Alzheimer’s are also at high risk of developing visual impairments. A research article from the National Institute of Aging suggests that 1.8 percent (i.e., about 120,000) of total dementia patients in the US have some sort of eyesight problem.

The good news is – a team of researchers at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) has figured out a way to prevent a visual decline in patients living with Alzheimer’s and various other health conditions. 

In their latest study, they propose a new kind of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that can make its way to the retina by overcoming the blood-retinal barrier, eventually improving eye function in patients with Alzheimer’s. They also tested the new DHA in mice and came across surprising results. 

What is DHA? 

DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is known for improving brain and heart health. Generally, it is found as triacylglycerol (TAG) DHA in foods like salmon, flax seeds, soybeans, and various fish oil products. 

The study authors suggest that DHA is also good for the retina, the part of the human eyes that captures light and sends signals to the human brain so that you can see. However, people with Alzheimer’s often have low DHA concentration in their eye retinas, which makes them susceptible to eyesight-related problems. 

Unfortunately, DHA deficiency in the retina could not be treated with the TAG DHA found in most DHA-rich foods and supplements because the TAG form is unable to cross the bloodstream and reach the eyes. This is why the researchers developed lysophospholipid (LPC) DHA.

Sugasini Dhavamani, the first study author and a research assistant professor at UIC, said, “This study uses the novel approach of dietary LPC-DHA that overcomes both intestinal and blood–retinal barriers and improves retinal function.” 

She further added, “Dietary LPC-DHA is enormously superior to TAG-DHA in enriching retinal DHA and could be potentially beneficial for various retinopathies in patients.”

LPC DHA saves vision loss in mice with Alzheimer’s  

The researchers tested LPC DHA on mouse models demonstrating symptoms similar to those found in patients with Alzheimer’s at an early stage. They studied two groups of mice; one group of mice was given TAG DHA supplements, and the other group was fed LPC DHA. The dose of LPC that each mouse received was equal to 200 to 500 mg of omega fatty acids that a human can consume on a daily basis. 

Before starting the DHA diet, the researchers measured the retinal DHA concentration in the mouse models. Six months later, when the researchers again examined the retinas of mice in both groups, they were surprised. 

The mice that consumed TAG DHA didn’t experience any change in retinal DHA concentration, but those who were given LPC DHA had their retinal DHA content increased by a staggering 96 percent. The latter also experienced a noticeable improvement in the health and activity of their retinas.  

While boosting DHA can help to prevent such declines, increasing retinal DHA content has been challenging with currently available supplements. For a dietary supplement to deliver DHA to the retina, the DHA must be able to first be absorbed from the intestine into the bloodstream and then cross from the bloodstream into the retina.

So far, LPC DHA has been only tested on mice, but these findings suggest that LPC DHA might also improve retina function in humans suffering from low retinal-DHA concentration due to Alzheimer’s, aging, diabetes, and various other health issues. 

“This approach provides a novel therapeutic approach for the prevention or mitigation of retinal dysfunction associated with Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes,” said professor Dhavamani.

The study will be presented at Discover BMB, the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, set to take place between March 25 to March 28, 2023, in Seattle.

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