LOS ANGELES—Adding the omega-3 docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and curcumin promoted spinal cord neuroprotection, and neutralized the clinical and biochemical effects of myelopathy, a progressive disorder that often occurs in people with spine-weakening conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and osteoporosis, according to a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles (DOI: 10.3171/2012.5.SPINE1216). UCLA researchers discovered that a diet enriched with DHA and curcumin helped preserve walking ability in rats that have experienced damage to their spinal cords.
Researchers examined curcumin's ability to minimize oxidative cellular injury, and the capacity of omega-3 fatty acids to support membrane structure and improve neurotransmission in myelopathy.
They created an animal model of cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM), and fed mice either a diet rich in DHA and curcumin, or a standard Western diet high in saturated fats and sugar. A third set of rats received a standard rat diet and served as a control group. The researchers recorded a baseline of the 27 rats walking and re-examined the animals' gait on a weekly basis.
As early as three weeks, the rats eating the Western diet demonstrated measurable walking problems that worsened as the study progressed. Rats fed a diet enriched with DHA and curcumin walked significantly better than the first group even six weeks after the study's start.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels (a marker linked to cell-membrane damage) in the DHA-curcumin group were not significantly different from those in the control group, but were significantly greater than in the Western diet group. Significantly higher lumbar enlargement syntaxin-3 in the DHA-curcumin animals combined with a reduction in lipid peroxidation in 4-hydroxynonenal (4-HNE) indicated a possible healing effect on the plasma membrane.
This data suggested these dietary supplements help repair nerve cells and maintain neurological function after degenerative damage to the neck.
"DHA and curcumin appear to invoke several molecular mechanisms that preserved neurological function in the rats," said study co-author Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at UCLA. "This is an exciting first step toward understanding the role that diet plays in protecting the body from degenerative disease."
Cervical myelopathy can lead to disabling neurological symptoms, such as difficulty walking, neck and arm pain, hand numbness and weakness of the limbs. It's the most common cause of spine-related walking problems in people older than 55.
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