Loma Linda University Study Determines Omega-3 Fatty Acids Promote Functional Recovery After Traumatic Injury to the Nervous System

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The study shows that a preventive diet high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids accelerates recovery and improves the ability to walk after traumatic injury to the spinal cord.

Our study illustrates the therapeutic value of dietary omega-3 fatty acids, particularly in situations of anticipated damage to the nervous system.

Researchers at Loma Linda University (LLU) Center for Health Disparities and Molecular Medicine are the first to determine that a preventive diet high in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids accelerates recovery and improves the ability to walk after traumatic injury to the spinal cord.

“Our findings suggest that a balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can be part of a comprehensive approach to enhance the prospect of recovery following damage to the nervous system,” said Dr. Marino De Leon, professor and senior author on the study. “Although much more work is needed to address this critical health problem, our findings illustrate that what you eat can be part of the solution.”

The study reports that this preventative nutritional intervention enriched in docosahexaenoic acids (DHA) prepares neural cells to respond to injury by modifying the cell membrane composition. In addition, the study shows that a diet enriched in omega-3 fatty acids favors the metabolism of protective lipids and promotes the expression of genes associated with cell survival and resiliency.

“Unfortunately, trauma to the brain and the spinal cord are common in contact sports, car accidents, and during military combat; and in most cases they are impossible to predict. Even minor impacts to the brain and the cord can be disabling as they can accumulate over time,” says Dr. De Leon.

LLU postdoctoral research specialist and the first author of the study, Dr. Johnny D. Figueroa, says the study identifies cellular targets important in the effects of nutritional omega-3 fatty acids in health and disease. “Because our bodies can’t produce DHA,” he says, “it must be acquired through the diet. Our study illustrates the therapeutic value of dietary omega-3 fatty acids, particularly in situations of anticipated damage to the nervous system. Importantly, we demonstrate for the first time the metabolomics lipids fingerprinting of the injured spinal cord after being subjected to a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.”

Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include flaxseed, walnuts and salmon.

The findings were published on January 10, 2013 in the “Journal of Neurotrama”, a leading peer-reviewed journal in the field of traumatic spinal cord and brain injuries. The study was co-authored by Kathia Cordero and Miguel S. Illan, both MD-PhD students at LLU School of Medicine. The research was supported by grants 5R25GM060507 and 1P20MD001632 from the National Institute of Health (NIH).

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