DHA Deficiency Linked to Parkinson’s Disease

By Joel Fuhrman, M.D. www.drfuhrman.com

Take Supplemental DHA Or Get Periodic Blood Tests To Ensure Sufficiency!

Recent scientific findings have shown that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, in particular DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), have a protective effect against neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease (PD). Studies in animals clearly show that supplementation of DHA can alter brain DHA concentrations and have protective effects for brain cells, which can lead to reduced risk of PD.18

During the past twenty years, I have seen thousands of vegan patients, and I have noticed a peculiar oddity—I have seen a higher number of male elderly vegans with PD than I would have expected. If the vegan patients that I have seen are typical, it is important to find out what might be contributing to this higher incidence of PD. Could DHA deficiency be a significant factor? There is some evidence that it may.

Males convert short chain omega- 3 (alpha-linolenic acid) from greens, walnuts, and flax to DHA (longer chain omega-3) less efficiently than females. Studies seem to suggest that males with very low blood levels of DHA are at higher risk of being damaged from the environmental risks that create PD. In addition, there are a number of studies that associate DHA deficiencies with PD.

Animal Studies

A recent study examined mice that were exposed to two diets. One group was fed a diet with DHA and other omega-3 fatty acids; the other group was given ordinary food, lacking DHA. After a period of time, they were given a dose of a chemical that causes the same damage to the brain as PD. The mice on the DHA diet seemed to be immune to the effects of the chemical, whereas the mice that ate ordinary food developed symptoms of the disease.

According to researchers, in the mice that had been given omega-3 supplementation—in particular DHA, the omega-3 fatty acids replaced the omega-6 fatty acids in their brains. Due to the fact that concentrations of other omega-3s (LNA and EPA) had maintained levels in both groups of mice, the researchers suggested that the protective effect against PD indeed came from DHA.19

Another study observed the effect of DHA on monkeys treated with MPTP, a drug that induces PD-like symptoms, and the results suggested that DHA can reduce the severity of, or delay the development of, these drug-induced symptoms, therefore offering therapeutic benefits in the treatment of PD.20

DHA Deficiency A Real Threat

Overall, research provides evidence that DHA deficiencies can leave us vulnerable to developing diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. This has been my observation with a substantial number of patients over the last 20 years. If you are a nutritarian, flexitarian, vegan, or vegetarian and you are not taking DHA or confirming your levels are adequate with blood work, you are being negligent and potentially increasing your risk of such a disease in later life.

Healthful Diet Not Enough

Don’t be fooled into thinking that merely by eating right you are doing all you can do to protect your health. People must be made aware that by neglecting to take the supplements that are essential to assuring nutritional excellence, they are putting themselves in harm’s way. Specifically, not taking DHA, B12, and vitamin D can be potentially dangerous and even life threatening.

For example, every week I see patients with severe deficiencies who assume that their healthful diet or their sun exposure is sufficient to assure adequacy. Obviously, they are wrong. Some people may not need such supplements, but the only way to be certain is to periodically check your levels with a blood test. In other words, those naturalists who resist supplementation are often gambling with their health. Don’t be foolish; either supplement regularly, or get your blood tested every few years to assure your levels are adequate without supplementing.

A very close friend of mine who followed an exceptionally healthful diet of organic foods (including the daily consumption of nuts and seeds) for more than 50 years started developing Parkinson’s tremors in his late 80s. I ordered blood tests, and the results showed that he had almost a zero DHA level on his fatty acid test. I had never seen a DHA level that low before. Since that time, I have drawn DHA blood levels on other patients who have developed Parkinson’s and also found very low DHA levels.

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