Epidemiological studies fairly convincingly suggest that higher intake of fish and omega-3 fatty acids present in fish is associated with reduced risk for age-related cognitive decline (ARCD). Normally, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in plasma is positively associated with DHA intake. However, despite being associated with lower fish and DHA intake, unexpectedly, ARCD is not consistently associated with lower plasma DHA. Furthermore, DHA is often slightly but significantly higher in plasma and erythrocytes in
the elderly without ARCD compared to young adults. Higher plasma DHA in the elderly may be a sign that their fish or DHA intake is higher but we show here that various aspects of DHA homeostasis also change with age. Our supplementation and tracer studies show that DHA metabolism, e.g. transit through the plasma and apparent retroconversion but not beta-oxidation, is different in healthy elderly compared to healthy young adults. Apolipoprotein E4 increases the risk of ARCD, possibly in part
because it changes DHA homeostasis. Therefore, independent of differences in fish intake, changing DHA homeostasis may contribute to making the elderly more susceptible to cognitive decline despite them having similar or sometimes higher plasma DHA than in younger adults.
Key words: aging, cognitive decline, dietary, docosahexaenoic acid, omega-3 fatty acid