Can n-3 fatty acids prevent age-related decline in cognitive function? (OPAL)

Lead Research Organisation: Medical Research Council

Abstract

For a variety of reasons, older people are nutritionally vulnerable and often have diets that are poor in quality and quantity. This vulnerability often results in under-nutrition among older people and are related to the onset and progression of degenerative disorders in late life and loss of vision. This research will test the hypotheses that increasing the dietary levels of n3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (n3- LCPs) can slow the decline of cognitive function and vision in old age. These hypotheses will be tested using a double blind randomised placebo-controlled trial is planned over a 24 month period involving patients aged 70-79 years old.

Technical Summary

The absolute number of individuals with age-related cognitive impairment in the UK is on the rise and the rate of increase is outpacing the population growth of older people. This may suggest that environmental factors influence the onset of cognitive decline. There is much interest in the hypothesis that dietary improvements in older people, specific to increased dietary intake of n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (n3 LCPs) may delay the initiation, or slow the progression, of cognitive decline. There has until now been little or no attention given to the possible protective role of n-3 LCPs in age related loss of cognitive or retinal function. The main research hypothesis of the current proposal is that an increased dietary intake of n-3 LCPs will have a positive effect on cognitive performance in older people in the UK. To test this hypothesis, a double-blind randomised placebo controlled trial will be carried out among adults aged 70-79 years in which the intervention group will receive a daily capsule containing n-3 LCP (both decosahexaenoic acid DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid EPA) while the placebo arm will receive a daily capsule containing olive oil. The main outcome variable assessed at 24 months will be cognitive performance. The second major outcome variable will be retinal function. Retinal function tests were included as the retina is a specifically differentiated neural tissue and therefore represents an accessible window into the functioning of the brain.||The overall purpose of this public-health research is to help define a simple and effective dietary intervention aimed at maintaining cognitive and retinal function in later life. This will be the first trial of its kind that will estimate the effectiveness of slowing down the decline of cognitive and retinal function in older people by increasing daily dietary intake of n-3LCPs. The link between cognitive ability, visual function and quality of life among older people suggest that this novel line of research may have considerable public health importance.||The funding for this research has been provided by the United Kingdom Food Standards Agency and has been developed as a collaboration between GPRF and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
 
Description Citation in Cochrane Review
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Citation in systematic reviews
 
Description British Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 250 members of the public attended a session on food and brain function - lots of interest

Does fish oil boost brain power in older people? British Science Festival, Bradford (September 2011)

Plenty of interest from members of the public at the event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2011
 
Description House of Lords Food and Health Forum 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/parliamentarians
Results and Impact 50 members of the public and parliamentarians attended a presentation and discussion on the findings of the trial.


Fish oil and cognitive health in older people. House of Lords Food and Health Forum, London (June 2010)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010
 
Description Multiple media interviews 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation Keynote/Invited Speaker
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Gave multiple interviews to the international media on findings of the trial.

Findings of the study reported in multiple international media outlets (print and online).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2010