Dietary Supplements May Help Control Metabolism, Brain Inflammation in Parkinson’s, Study Finds

Joana Carvalho, PhD avatar

by Joana Carvalho, PhD |

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Supplements of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E may help control genes involved in brain inflammation and body metabolism in patients with Parkinson’s disease, a study has found.

The study, “The effects of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E co-supplementation on gene expression related to inflammation, insulin and lipid in patients with Parkinson’s disease: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial,” was published in Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery.

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the gradual loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigraa region of the brain responsible for movement control, leading to a lack of body balance, coordination, depression, and cognitive impairment.

It is well-known that inflammatory cytokines — molecules that mediate immune responses — such as tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) and interleukin-1 (IL-1), are also involved in disease progression.

A team of Iranian researchers had previously shown that Parkinson’s patients taking supplements of omega-3 fatty acids together with vitamin E for a period of 12 weeks “had benefit effects on Unified Parkinson’s disease rating stage [which assesses both motor and non-motor symptoms], insulin metabolism … and total antioxidant capacity.”

Omega-3 fatty acids are fatty substances the body is incapable of producing that are crucial for many functions, including muscle activity and cell growth. For this reason, they must be obtained from certain foods, such as fatty fish and seeds.

Vitamin E is an antioxidant — a substance that protects cells from damage caused by high levels of oxidant molecules — that is essential for blood, brain and skin health.

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The same team has now investigated the effects of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E supplements on the expression of genes involved in inflammation and body metabolism in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Gene expression is the process by which information in a gene is synthesized to create a working product, like a protein.

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial (IRCT2017061234497N1) assessed the effect of dietary supplements in 40 patients for a period of 12 weeks.

Study participants were randomly divided into two groups: one taking 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids from flaxseed oil together with 400 IU of vitamin E supplements daily; and another taking a placebo. The expression of genes involved in inflammation and body metabolism was measured in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) collected from patients.

After 12 weeks, PBMCs from patients taking daily dietary supplements had lower activity of TNF-alpha, but not of other genes involved in inflammation, such as IL-1 and interleukin-8 (IL-8), compared with those on a placebo.

“Therefore, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E co-supplementation due to their beneficial effects on inflammatory markers may be useful to control neurological symptoms in a population with PD [Parkinson’s disease],” the researchers wrote.

In addition, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E supplements enhanced the activity of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPAR-gamma), a gene involved in lipid (fatty molecules) and insulin (a hormone that helps control blood sugar levels) metabolism.

Conversely, treatment reduced the activity of low-density lipoprotein receptor (LDLR), a gene involved in controlling the amount of cholesterol in the blood, compared with the placebo group.

“Increased gene expression of PPAR-γ[gamma] improves insulin sensitivity [and] can have additional effects upon cellular physiology, including anti-proliferative and anti-inflammatory,” the investigators wrote.

“To our knowledge, this study is the first [to] report [beneficial] effects of omega-3 and vitamin E co-supplementation on gene expression related to inflammation, insulin and lipid in populations with PD,” they concluded.

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