Spicing up brain benefits of fish oil

May 17 2017

Professor Peter Howe and Dr Rachel Wong

A nutritional study at the University of Newcastle (UON) will test for the first time whether the spice curcumin, taken in combination with fish oil, can further boost blood flow in the brain and enhance cognitive performance.

Coordinator Dr Rachel Wong says adults aged between 50 and 80, who consume little or no fish or fish oil, will be invited to take part in the new FOCUS (Fish Oil CUrcumin Study) trial.

“We believe that curcumin, an active ingredient in turmeric which gives the yellow colour to curry, may potentiate effects of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil on brain function,” Dr Wong explains. 

The Director of the Clinical Nutrition Research Centre, Professor Peter Howe, says both nutrients target inflammation and improve the health of blood vessels in the brain: “We believe they can indirectly benefit cognitive performance by improving the supply of oxygen and energy sources to meet the demands of nervous tissue,” he says.

“Our pilot study last year showed that women in particular benefitted from fish oil supplementation. Curcumin has potent anti-inflammatory effects and we believe it will also enhance blood vessel function.”

The research team expects the combination will be especially beneficial for those carrying excess weight or doing insufficient physical activity.

“The demands of a hectic lifestyle can make it difficult for people to maintain a balanced diet and find time to exercise, which contributes to chronic low-grade inflammation in blood vessels, affecting their ability to dilate efficiently,” Dr Wong adds.

“The consequences may include memory problems, poor concentration and mood disorders. We hope to prevent these by supplementing the diet with omega-3 fatty acids and curcumin.”

The research team aims to enrol 160 overweight (BMI between 25-35 kg/m2) adults, who exercise less than 2½ hours per week, to take part in the 16-week intervention trial. They will test the effects of supplementation on inflammatory, circulatory, mental and mood outcomes and perceptions of wellbeing and chronic pain related to osteoarthritis.

Participants will consume either fish oil, curcumin, a combination of fish oil and curcumin, or a placebo (6 capsules daily). The study requires four visits to the University of Newcastle’s Callaghan campus and two blood samples.

Blood brain flow will be measured non-invasively with ultrasound while volunteers undergo a series of mental tests.

Volunteers can phone Julia Kuszewski on (02) 4921 8616 or email Julia.Kuszewski@uon.edu.au

* Dr Rachel Wong and Professor Peter Howe are from the University of Newcastle, researching in conjunction with HMRI’s Cardiovacular Program. The trial is supported by Blackmores.