DHA beats EPA for stroke-induced brain damage: Mice study

By Will Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Omega-3 fatty acid

DHA can be synthesised from alpha-linolenic acid or obtained directly from breast milk, fish oil or via supplements. ©iStock
DHA can be synthesised from alpha-linolenic acid or obtained directly from breast milk, fish oil or via supplements. ©iStock
Omega-3s can reduce brain damage that occurs as a result of a stroke, a Columbia University study has found.

Following a brain injury, treatment using a triglyceride emulsion containing the omega-3 form docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), was found to reduce oxidative damage and improve neurological outcomes in the short and long term in the study which appears in the journal PLOS One. ​Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) was found to be less effective. 

Dr Harry Rice, vice president of regulatory and scientific affairs at the Global Organisation for EPA and DHA Omega 3s (GOED) told us: “While results from this research provide original evidence of a neuroprotective benefit of DHA post-ischemia, they add to a growing body of evidence demonstrating promising benefits of omega-3s following neurological assault."  


Study co-author Dr Richard Deckelbaum, professor of epidemiology and director of the Institute of Nutrition at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, described taking 10-day-old mice that had received a hypoxia-ischemia (HI) brain injury.

This type of injury exposes the brain to a fatal reduction of oxygen (hypoxia) and/or a significant reduction of the brain’s blood supply (ischemia) mimicking the actions during a stroke.

mice animal experiment research science iStock.com MarquesPhotography
Experimental mice had received a hypoxia-ischemia (HI) brain injury.©iStock/MarquesPhotography

Emulsion doses containing either DHA or EPA - another type of omega-3 - was then administered to the mice through the abdominal cavity.

The doses were given immediately after HI with the second dose administered one hour afterwards. Normal saline (Veh) was used as a control. Three groups were compared: HI+Veh; HI+EPA; and HI+DHA.

The flow of blood to the mice’s brains was then restored. After 4–5 hours mitochondrial fatty acid composition and calcium ions (Ca2+) buffering capacity were assessed.

Mitochondrial dysfunction is recognised as a mechanism that occurs after a stroke. During blood flow restoration, mitochondria are overloaded with Ca2+. This increases permeability in the mitochondria, which stops energy production and promotes cell death.

The researchers evaluated the mice's neurological function 24 hours and eight to nine weeks after the brain injury.

At 24 hours, DHA-treated mice were found to have had a significant reduction in brain injury. This finding was not observed in EPA-treated mice.

Subsequent weeks also revealed the DHA-treated mice also had improved brain functions when compared to the EPA-treated mice and untreated (control) mice.

The DHA-treated mice were found to have higher concentrations of DHA in their brain mitochondria.

“In our current and previous work in omega-3s for neuroprotection we have obtained data showing excellent tolerance and safety in our animal models,”​ said Dr Deckelbaum.

“More studies are still needed on ‘safety’ parameters in animals, and then humans. Similar to other novel therapies we’ll need to go through the needed steps for regulatory approval.“


Source: PLOS One

Published online ahead of print, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0160870

“DHA but Not EPA Emulsions Preserve Neurological and Mitochondrial Function after Brain Hypoxia-Ischemia in Neonatal Mice.”

Authors: Richard Deckelbaum et al.

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