Study: Omega-3 Fatty Acids Can Reverse Fructose Damage

Caregiver, patient expert

Fructose has been tagged for years as a harmful part of the Western high-sugar, fast food diet. A recent study conducted by UCLA life scientists may show us a way to begin mitigating damage done in the past while we try to improve how we eat.

This study shows that omega-3 fatty acids, known as docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, seem to reverse the harmful, genetic changes caused by fructose. DHA is found most abundantly in wild salmon, but is also available in other types of fish as well as fish oil, walnuts, flaxseed, and fruits and vegetables. Good quality fish oil supplements may also help, though they haven’t been studied as thoroughly as whole fish.

Diseases such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s have been linked to a high amount of fructose, which is used as an inexpensive sweetener in many ready-to-eat foods.

"DHA changes not just one or two genes; it seems to push the entire gene pattern back to normal, which is remarkable," Xia Yang, a senior author of the study and a UCLA assistant professor of integrative biology and physiology. "And we can see why it has such a powerful effect."

DHA occurs naturally in the membranes of our brain cells, but the amount that naturally occurs is not enough to fight today’s prominent diseases. The extra DHA that we need must come through our diet. According to the research, DHA strengthens synapses in the brain and enhances learning and memory.

Related tests reveal that rats receiving a high-fructose diet had much higher blood glucose, triglycerides and insulin levels resulting in diabetes and obesity.

The studies also show that inflammation, Parkinson’s disease, depression bipolar disorder and other brain disease could possibly link back to the genetic changes caused by fructose, though more work needs to be done before there is proof in this area.

The UCLA study shows that DHA can reverse much of this damage if the diet is corrected soon enough.

Are omega-3 oils magic? I wouldn’t bet on it. Studies vary in results. Humans aren’t rats or mice, which is how these studies are conducted in early stages.

The wisest approach to health would be to limit or if possible eliminate fructose from our diets and regularly eat salmon and other high-quality foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids. Realistically, most of us are going to fall somewhere in the middle. We’ll try to do better by eliminating as much fructose as we can. We also should eat more oily fish and other sources of DHA.

It’s not likely to hurt us if we take good quality supplements, either. But good quality is the key. Look for a source that you can trust, and don’t rely on supplements to correct a poor diet. You should consult your doctor before taking supplements.

_I find the news contained in this study encouraging. _ The results could lead to new medications that may help people who already have health problems as well as point the rest of us toward better health. However, as with research, the results of the studies focusing on DHA and its effect on fructose will continue to evolve.

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Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran family caregiver having spent over two decades caring for a total of seven elders. She is a longtime newspaper columnist and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories,” as well as a contributor to several additional books on caregiving and dementia. Her websites can be accessed at Follow Carol on Twitter @mindingourelder_ and on Facebook _Minding Our Elders.