Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: Fish Oil Benefits Your Joints, Heart, and BRAIN....Oh My! (Sports Med Res)


Monday, August 19, 2013

Fish Oil Benefits Your Joints, Heart, and BRAIN....Oh My!

Effect of fish oil supplementation in a rat model of multiple mild traumatic brain injuries

Wang T., Van KC., Gavitt BJ., Grayson K., Lu Y., Lyeth BG., Pichakron KO.  Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience. 2013; ahead of print

Take Home Message: Pre-injury supplementation with omega-3-fatty acids may improve cognitive and physiologic recovery following brain injury.

Repetitive mild traumatic brain injuries (MTBI) may lead to irreversible brain damage due to the secondary effects that follow an MTBI (i.e., oxidativedamage). Omega-3- fatty acids, DHA and EPA, have been show to reduce the secondary effects of an MTBI by reducing oxidative damage. Given the frequency and potential long term effects of repetitive MTBIs it is imperative to find ways to prevent and treat the cumulative effects of an MTBI. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to determine if a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids would reduce cognitive deficits and neuronal cell death in a fluid-percussion rat model of repetitive MTBI. Twenty-five rats completed the full experiment. Seven rats were excluded due to a bad reaction to the fluid percussion injury or excessive weight loss following the injury. Rat chows were custom made, with the first having an additional 6% fish oil (8-10 g EPA and 8 g DHA; Brevoortia Tyrannus, an Atlantic menhaden fish) and the other having an addition 6% soybean oil (control diet). Both chows had the same calorie count, essential nutrients, and oil content. Rats were randomly assigned to either diet, and were given free access to their respective chow for 4 weeks pre-injury and 2 weeks post injury. After 4 weeks the rats were subjected to a bilateral MTBI via fluid percussion to create a MTBI. After 24 hours a second fluid percussion injury was administered to generate a repeat MTBI. Cognitive evaluation was assessed for 5 consecutive days (days 10-14) via the Morris Water Maze. Following the final cognitive trial the rats were euthanized and the brains were examined for histological differences within the CA2-3 hippocampal regions (neurons imperative for memory and spatial navigation). The fish oil group was able to find the hidden platform and spent more time within the target quadrant on day 14 post MTBI compared to the soybean oil group. There were no differences observed within days 10-13. There were no differences between the right and left hemispheres in the quantity of surviving CA2-3 neurons; however, there was a trend for the fish oil group to have a greater number of total CA2-3 neurons compared to control diet group.

This is an interesting study that mimicked a repetitive blow to the head that would result in a MTBI. The rats that were given the fish oil chow displayed better terminal cognitive performances within the Morris Water Maze tests by exhibiting greater spatial memory retention than their soybean oil counterparts. The histology demonstrated a trend for those on the fish oil diet to have a greater number of surviving CA2-3 hippocampal neurons. This data suggests that pre-injury supplementation with omega-3-fatty acids may have the potential to improve the cognitive outcome after sustaining multiple MTBIs. This study also suggests that many of the cognitive problems following a concussive event may be due to the secondary effects of the oxidative stress on the tissue, which may be alleviated by fish oil supplementation; however, there was not an injury-free control group for comparison. The fish oil supplementation may offset a variety of the neurometabolic events that occur following a MTBI that helps to preserve or repair cognitive function following injury. Further research is necessary to determine the duration and dose of fish oil to receive benefits. Additionally, it should be distinguished if omega-3-fatty acids from natural food source produce better or similar neuronal protection results compared to supplementation.

Questions for Discussion: Do you think that taking fish oil will help prevent long-term cumulative effects of repetitive brain injury? Have you suggested this for your athletes?

Written by: Jane McDevitt PhD, ATC, CSCS
Reviewed by: Stephen Thomas

Related Posts:

Wang T, Van KC, Gavitt BJ, Grayson JK, Lu YC, Lyeth BG, & Pichakron KO (2013). Effect of fish oil supplementation in a rat model of multiple mild traumatic brain injuries. Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience PMID: 23835930


Tkobordo said...

I find this study to be very interesting especially with the increase in MTBI research and the growing trend of supplement usage. Although the result showed a greater amount of CA2-3 hippocampal neurons that survived post MTBI and better cognitive function in the group that was fed the Omega 3 rich chow, I think it would have also been beneficial to have a group that only received the Omega 3 chow prior to the fluid percussion, and another group who would have received it after to determine which is more effective: pre supplementation, or post injury supplementation. And furthermore, I agree with the article review statement that it “should be distinguished if omega-3-fatty acids from natural food source produce better or similar neuronal protection results compared to supplementation”. This would be beneficial in a clinical/nutritional standpoint to determine if athletes competing in sports who are very subject to sustaining MTBIs should have a nutrition plan that is richer in Omega 3s, or if they should supplement their diet just prior to or after competition.

Jane McDevitt said...


Your research methodology note for the effectiveness pre supplementation versus post injury supplementation is a very interesting. Would retired athletes still benefit from Omega 3 rich diet, or does that diet need to be rich in Omega 3 before the injury. I would love to see this in the future.

Becca Burkhart said...

I thought that this study was interesting when looking at the growing concern about MTBI. It is interesting to learn that in the future there might be a nutrition plan that could help to limit MTBI. I wonder if there are other aspects of athletes diets that could help preserve and repair cognitive function? I would be curious to see what further research has to say on Omega 3 rich diets.

Stephanie Michel said...

As an athlete myself, I recently sustained a concussion. Following my evaluation with the physician, I was put on a multivitamin complex, with omega-3 fish oil pills included. My symptoms dramatically decreased when I started the multivitamins. When I became symptom free, I was told to stop taking the vitamins. I feel as though the use of the vitamins was very helpful. I had suffered from concussions prior. I never used the multivitamin complex and I noticed that my symptoms had lasted longer even though the concussions were not as severe as the most recent one I suffered from. I think that the use of omega-3 will be very useful in the treatments of concussions when it comes to short term effects. I am not sure how it will necessarily help prevent long term effects. Once the concussion has been sustained, isn't the structural damage already done?

Jane McDevitt said...

Thank you for sharing your story. Your case definitely strengthens this research. I am not sure how the omega-3 vitamin complex would help in the long term either. Regarding your comment about structural damage, typically athletically induced concussions do not result in structural damage. The neuron is stretched but does not get torn. However, that stretch is significant enough to result in a cascade of events that take place on a cellular level driving the neuron out of homeostasis and that is what causes the symptoms. That is also why concussions do not show up on MRIs there isnt any structural damage. All the damage is on a cellular level.

Morgan Hooven said...

I found this study to be very interesting in that omega 3 and fish oils can help with MTBI. I believe that taking the fish oils could help lessen the effects of repetitive brain damage but not prevent the long term effects from happening. I think more studies should be done to further research about fish oils and omega 3 and how they help with MTBI. Do you think there are other supplements out there besides omega 3 that have the same effects?

Jane McDevitt said...

There is not a lot of research done with supplementation and concussions. Other than DHA and Omega 3 there has been 1 study that looked at hormonal changes and possibly supplementation with progesterone that will help with concussive s/s. There still needs to be a lot more research in this area.

Sylvia Thelemaque said...

No one can know for sure if fish oil can have a long term effect, but I am sure that it can help improve brain function.

Fish oil has been given the reputation of being "brain food" because it helps with many other conditions. There does not seem to be any harm in providing fish oil which contains supplements such as Omega 3 Fatty acids.

The study shows it seems to improve cognitive outcome therefore seems to be safe and effective!

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