Background: Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an abundant fatty acid in the brain. In the diet, DHA is found mostly in fatty fish. The content of DHA has been shown to be decreased in the brain and plasma of patients with dementia.
Objective: To determine whether plasma phosphatidylcholine (PC) DHA content is associated with the risk of developing dementia.
Design, setting, and participants: A prospective follow-up study in 899 men and women who were free of dementia at baseline, had a median age of 76.0 years, and were followed up for a mean of 9.1 years for the development of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer disease.
Main outcome measures: Plasma PC fatty acid levels were measured at baseline. Cox proportional regression analysis was used to assess relative risks of all-cause dementia and Alzheimer disease according to baseline plasma levels.
Results: Ninety-nine new cases of dementia (including 71 of Alzheimer disease) occurred during the follow-up. After adjustment for age, sex, apolipoprotein E epsilon4 allele, plasma homocysteine concentration, and education level, subjects in the upper quartile of baseline plasma PC DHA levels, compared with subjects in the lower 3 quartiles, had a relative risk of 0.53 of developing all-cause dementia (95% confidence interval, 0.29-0.97; P=.04) and 0.61 of developing Alzheimer disease (95% confidence interval, 0.31-1.18; P=.14). Subjects in the upper quartile of plasma PC DHA levels had a mean DHA intake of 0.18 g/d and a mean fish intake of 3.0 servings per week (P<.001) in a subset of 488 participants. We found no other significant associations.
Conclusion: The top quartile of plasma PC DHA level was associated with a significant 47% reduction in the risk of developing all-cause dementia in the Framingham Heart Study.