Study shows fish oil may reduce risk of brain damage in alcoholics

•Summary of the popular media piece

          This media piece gives information on the findings of research conducted at Stritch School of Medicine, Chicago (where a meta analysis of 75 different studies was conducted). The article emphasises the extraordinary effects of Omega 3 fish oil, in protecting against neurological damage associated with excessive alcohol abuse (such as alcohol induced dementia). While high levels of alcohol in the body have been found to inflame, or even kill brain cells, the article stresses that the impacts of alcohol on these cells can be avoided by taking Omega 3 fish oil supplements. The article goes on to say that fish oil has the ability to strengthen the brain cells, and preserves “brain integrity”.

  However, the article does end with almost a warning, that in extreme cases of alcoholism, the excessive consumption of alcohol surpasses the limit at which Omega 3 fish oils could potentially be effective, and overwhelms brain cells to the point to which they rapidly inflame, and eventually die.

•A summary of the actual findings from the primary source

      The primary source, in more depth, outlines the findings of the work they conducted at the university (where they used cultures of adult brain cells in rats). The researchers exposed these cultures to very high levels of alcohol ( 4 times the legal driving limit), and then as a comparison exposed the another culture to a compound found in fish oil omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (as well as the alcohol given to the previous culture). They found that 90% of the cultures that were exposed to alcohol and the fish oil, had far fewer neuronal deaths, and less inflammation of the brain cells. However, the article does go on to say that further studies are needed to confirm whether fish oil has the ability to protect against dementia and cognitive injury using adult rodent models, since the observations made were from just cultures of brain cells. The research definitely confirms the potential of fish oil, and one researcher states “At the very least, it is unlikely that it would hurt them.” The principal investigator of this study ( Michael A. Collins, PhD) stresses that fish oil in no way reverses the extreme damage that can arise from alcohol abuse, and that people should no go on drinking copious amounts of alcohol since they are taking fish oil supplements, and emphasises that ultimately the most effective way to protect your brain is to cut back on alcohol all together.

◦Do you think the popular piece accurately reflects the scientific finding?

         Overall, I do think that the article from TechTimes does reflect accurately on the scientific findings made at Loyola University Chicago, however the article seems to jump to conclusions while providing limited evidence of the research that allowed such conclusions to be drawn, and does not highlight that research needs to continue into this area, so that the true effects of fish oil on the neurological well being of alcohol abusers can be identified.

◦How are these two different?

                    The primary source of this article definitely gives more details into the research carried out, and emphasises the ‘potential’ of fish oil rather than its known effects.

◦Where is the aspects exaggerated or misrepresented?

                 There is slightly more emphasis put on the neurological benefits of fish oil to those who consume high quantities of alcohol (rather than the drawbacks). For example, the article does not point out that more research is required using adult rodent models as opposed to just cell cultures. However, to my surprise I do not think that any aspect of the article has been misrepresented.

◦How would you improve the popular media piece?

            To improve the popular media piece I would like to see more details of  how the research was carried out. For example, details on how many cell cultures were used to obtain the statistic of 90% less neurological damage than the culture without exposure to Omega-3 fish oil. Also, the age range of the cells used in the research (could young cells possibly resist the effects of alcohol more easily than ageing cells?)

2 responses to “Study shows fish oil may reduce risk of brain damage in alcoholics”

  1. Carlos Aizenman says:

    Here is a great example of where the popular media piece (and the university press release) oversells the study. The study was done in neurons in a culture dish, directly exposed to alcohol and fish oil. It has no evidence that this happens in an intact nervous system, of humans or even rats. For example, how quickly does ingested fish oil get to the brain before alcohol does? It is dangerous to directly make recommendations (eg. take fish oil before you drink) when you only have results from cells in culture.

  2. Aliya Saffran says:

    A similar situation occurred in my two pieces. I felt like the article jumped to conclusions that should not have necessarily been made. I also think that including more details in the popular media piece would have been beneficial.

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