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Fish Oil May Help Protect against Stroke-Related Damage

Update Date: Feb 21, 2013 02:18 PM EST

Apparently, fish oil is no snake oil.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 795,000 Americans suffer from a stroke each year. A whopping 1 in 18 deaths are linked to strokes. While strokes are generally associated with old age, 1 in 2300 to 5000 newborns suffers from a stroke - and the perinatal period is the time in childhood most associated with the brain attacks. Despite their prevalence, doctors' arsenal to fight them is extremely limited. Thrombolysis, or clot-bursting drugs, is the only method of treatment against ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke - and the drugs are only effective at preventing damage 3 to 5 percent of the time. However, a new study has found that there may be a solution. It found that, when administered in newborn mice, fish oil reduced neurological damage significantly. In fact, the study found that, seven days after the oil was administered, some affected brain tissue was nearly indistinguishable from healthy brain tissue.

The study was conducted by researchers from Columbia University and Louisiana State University Medical Center. They tested two different components of fish oil - docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). The researchers found that DHA provided a therapeutic benefit, preventing up to 50 percent of neurological damage in newborn mice. The researchers also found that the compound needed to be administered to the mice within two hours of birth for optimal benefit, and within four hours to have any benefit at all. After four hours, the emulsion was useless.

"Stroke is a brain attack that each year kills 130,000 Americans," notes Dr. Bazan. "Strokes can occur at any age, including in newborns, with long-term and devastating consequences. DHA is already widely consumed as a dietary supplement in the US, and from a therapeutic point of view, we can now see a light at the end of the tunnel."

DHA, which can be found in cold water-dwelling fatty fish like salmon, has been found to hold benefits for patients with conditions as diverse as asthma, cancer and age-related macular degeneration in the eye.

EPA, which is often paired with DHA in fish oil pills, has been linked to the prevention of blood clots. When combined, the acids can combat pain and inflammation.

Strokes at birth have been linked to a variety of ailments, including mental disabilities, cerebral palsy and behavioral problems.

The study was published in the journal PLoS One.

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