Omega-3 fatty acids protect against nerve damage
Scientists have found that omega-3 fatty acids can help speed up recovery from nerve damage. Mice with high levels of the fatty acid showed higher resistance to nerve damage and faster recovery.
Nerves can easily be damaged. Unfortunately, their self-repair can be extremely slow meaning that people must live with pain and reduced mobility for a long time after the initial injury. There is currently little doctors can do to help.
Omega-3 fatty acids have long been studied for their health benefits. They are not produced by the body but must be obtained from foods such oily fish.
In order to study the effect of high levels of the fatty acid, mice were genetically modified so that they lacked an enzyme that breaks down the molecule, resulting in higher levels in the blood. Nerves were surgically removed from the mice and subjected to damage by stretching and by oxygen starvation. Nerves from the GM mice showed greater resistance to this damage than those from normal mice.
Then, to study the effect in the whole animal, the researchers damaged the sciatic nerve of anaesthetised mice. The GM mice showed better signs of recovery seven days after the injury than the normal mice and their muscle function was also stronger following the injury.
More work is needed, but this research shows that omega-3 fatty acids could aid recovery from nerve injury and be used as part of future treatments.