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Uncontrolled Epilepsy Linked to Low Omega-3 Fatty Acid Level

Researchers at Emory University presented findings that the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is abnormally low in individuals with uncontrolled epilepsy. DHA is essential for nervous system development in infants and for the proper brain cell membrane development and function in adults. Because the body cannot produce sufficient amounts of DHA, it must be consumed by eating foods such as fatty fish, or by taking supplements. These findings were presented at the American Academy of Neurology's 56th Annual Meeting in April 2004.

The researchers compared 57 healthy people with 41 individuals with a type of seizure that is resistant to antiepileptic medication. Analysis of blood samples revealed that the mean red blood cell membrane DHA level of the epileptic patients was 2.74 percent compared to 3.46 percent in the healthy group. Previous research has correlated DHA levels in red blood cell membranes with those of cerebral neuron membranes.

Associate professor of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Emory Epilepsy Center, Thomas R. Henry, MD, explained, “We looked at prior studies of animal models of rats with epilepsy and low levels of DHA. By giving these rats more DHA, it made it more difficult for them to have seizures. We are now exploring a similar connection of low DHA levels in humans who have epilepsy."

Dr Henry added, "By determining a deficiency in the red blood cell membranes in these patients, we infer that brain cell membranes are also depleted of this normal fatty acid. This may help us link low DHA to seizures which cannot be managed by antiepileptic medications. Reasons for the reduced membrane levels are unclear at this time. Future studies are needed to determine if DHA supplementation can help control seizures in this patient population."


American Academy of Neurology's 56th Annual Meeting in April 2004.

Key concepts:

Omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, epilepsy