Weighing the therapeutic potential of omega-3 and exercise


Olivier Kerdiles
Université Laval

Olivier Kerdiles, a doctoral student at Université Laval, is exploring the possibility that diet and exercise could prevent the onset of Parkinson’s disease as well as reduce the loss of neurons and even reverse other negative effects. He is studying omega-3, a group of fatty acids known to be beneficial to our metabolism, which might also contribute to the health of neurons by maintaining their ability to produce the vital agent dopamine, which transmits signals from the brain to the body. His research is made possible through a Graduate Student Award from Parkinson Canada National Research Program for $30,000 over 2 years.

While most of the world’s research community seeks to develop sophisticated drugs that could prevent or correct the problems associated with Parkinson’s disease, Olivier Kerdiles is considering whether something as simple as dietary intake might accomplish these goals.

While doing his master’s degree in France, Kerdiles worked on standard pharmacological treatments such as L-DOPA, but since coming to Canada for his doctoral studies he has examined the role of nutrition and exercise.

Kerdiles is looking at the role of omega-3, a group of fatty acids found in many foods that are a component of healthy metabolism. Kerdiles and his colleagues are exploring the possibility that this agent, in combination with exercise, could not only protect people from the onset of Parkinson’s disease, but might also reverse some of the neurological damage that has already occurred.

Kerdiles works with different groups of mice, some with symptoms of Parkinson’s, and others that have none. Members of various groups receive omega-3 and the opportunity to exercise — together as well as separately — while others do not. The researchers then compare the health outcomes of these different mice, looking particularly at the levels of dopamine in brain cells, since dopamine is the vital agent that helps these nervous system cells send messages from the brain to the muscles.

Kerdiles wants to assess whether the capacity to generate dopamine is restored in the previously damaged neurons.

 His work is in the early stages, too soon to conclude whether omega-3 and exercise could offer this kind of regenerative capacity. Even if that turns out to be the case, he acknowledges that capacity might not match the effectiveness of some drugs currently available to patients with Parkinson’s disease. Nevertheless, he argues, a program of omega-3 and exercise would not result in the side effects often associated with other treatments.

“In many cases you develop a drug but then years later you realize that there are too many side effects for it to be useful,” he says. “Then you have to explain this problem to the patients you had told you were helping with this drug.”

Above all, a regimen based on diet and exercise could complement the use of drugs that remain safe and effective for a patient’s use. “We wanted to find something accessible and affordable to test, and you can very easily change your diet and do exercise,” he explains. “Current treatments address the symptoms of Parkinson’s without preventing neurodegeneration or restoring dopaminergic neurons. We hope that our approach would begin to treat the disease itself.”

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