If you’re a reader of the Artic Flex Blog, you are well aware of the role omega-3 fatty acids have in your joints’ health.
We wouldn’t be doing this nutrient justice, however, if we didn’t at least mention the other roles it plays in your body, too.
So, let’s get to it. Today we’re going to focus on the brain.
A Quick Overview of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Many studies show the importance of this essential nutrient for healthy brain function. Although the human body makes most of the fats it needs from raw materials and other fats, the body is unable to produce omega-3 fatty acids. You can only get these essential fats from the foods you eat or the supplements you take.
According to the Nutrition Source by the Harvard School of Public Health, there are three different omega-3s found in the foods we eat:
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) – found in nuts and vegetable oils, flaxseed, some animal fat, and leafy vegetables
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – mainly found in fish
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) – mainly found in fish
Ever wonder about omega-6 fatty acids? We did too, so we researched the topic and wrote an article about it just for you. Check it out here.
DHA is the most abundant fatty acid found in your brain, and it’s located mainly in your cells’ membranes. Along with building the structure of the brain, DHA is involved in the generation of neurons as well as neurotransmission.
DHA levels change depending on the amount and type of fatty acids in your diet, and these levels decrease as you age making it even more critical that you eat foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
One good thing to know about DHA is that EPA and ALA can be metabolized by the body into DHA.
The Youthful, Growing Brain
Omega-3 fatty acids are also crucial for healthy brain development in utero, postnatal, and into the early years of childhood.
In fact, studies have shown that higher fish consumption is linked to improved cognition in children, and recent findings showed that frequent fish intake was associated with high IQ scores and fewer sleep issues in children.
Age-Related Cognitive Decline
As you age, your brain goes through many biological and physical changes, including a loss of plasticity, volume shrinkage, and a decrease in the levels of omega-3 fatty acids. It’s thought that the lower omega-3 levels may contribute to age-related cognitive decline.
One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that fish consumers had significantly less cognitive decline than non-consumers, leading researchers to the conclusion that moderate intake of EPA and DHA may help postpone cognitive decline.
Alzheimer’s is a common issue in aging adults, and several studies have concluded that there’s a link between an increased intake of omega-3s and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s.
One study published in a Nutrition journal found that an inadequate amount of DHA in the elderly had implications for developing Alzheimer-type dementia. The authors concluded that supplementing with DHA offers a viable alternative approach to protecting the brain against the onset of Alzheimer-type dementia.
We mentioned above that with age comes shrinkage of the brain. Some good news is that new evidence shows a link between levels of omega-3 fatty acids and the total volume of the brain.
Why does brain volume matter?
Well, specifically it’s more gray matter that matters. That is the areas of the brain that are responsible for processing emotions, memories, and information.
Researchers have found that weekly consumption of broiled or baked fish was positively associated with higher gray matter volumes in these gray matter regions, like the orbital frontal cortex, posterior cingulate, and hippocampus.
We’ve spoken mostly on why it’s good to have ample amounts of omega-3 fatty acids…but what about on the other end of the spectrum?
It turns out that having too little omega-3 fatty acids can play a role in our mental health, too.
Some researchers have suggested that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids may cause an exaggerated (and unwanted) reaction of the immune response in regions of the brain, which can contribute negatively to mood and emotion.
Additionally, studies have demonstrated that people who regularly consume omega-3s have a reduced risk of depression by helping to modulate the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
Getting More Omega-3s
One of the healthiest choices for getting more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet is to eat fish that’s rich in EPA and DHA. Good options include salmon, sardines, trout, and barramundi.
You can also find ALA type omega-3s in foods like dark leafy veggies, walnuts, vegetable oils, and flaxseed, although fatty fishes offer a better option. Keep in mind, only small quantities of ALA can be turned into EPA and DHA by your body.
Another option is to get your omega-3s from a quality supplement, such as a krill oil supplement. Krill oil has been proven to be more bioavailable and environmentally sustainable than fish oil, ensuring you get the best results from your supplement.
We owe so much to all the work done by our brain: the ability to speak, feel, move, and think. By ensuring it gets the essential nutrients it needs, such as omega-3 fatty acids, we can ensure that we keep it functioning at its best.