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Fatty acid level "abnormally low" in people with uncontrolled epilepsy

12 May, 2004

The discovery
that people with uncontrolled epilepsy have a low level of the fatty
acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) may lead to new treatments for
epilepsy, according to researchers.

Researchers from the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta told the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology
that omega-3 fatty acids are crucial to the proper development and
function of cell membranes in the brain. However their study showed
that one particular fatty acid, DHA, is found at abnormally low levels
in patients with uncontrolled epilepsy.

The
study was based on 41 people with refractory complex partial seizures
when compared to a control group of 57 people without epilepsy.

DHA
is essential for the development of the nervous system and visual
abilities in babies and for the proper functioning of the brain in
adults. The human body cannot produce sufficient amounts of DHA for the
needs of the eye and brain. Therefore, DHA must be consumed though
foods, such as cold water fatty fish, or in supplemental form.

After
complete analyses, researchers found significantly lower levels of DHA
in the red blood cell membranes of the group with uncontrolled epilepsy
when compared to DHA levels in the healthy group.

Dr Thomas Henry, associate professor of neurology at Emory University School of Medicine, said:

"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.

"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 anti-epileptic 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."