The Omega-3 War Part II: Your Brain
Everyone wants a little brain boost now and then. Learning about the brain and the impact of Omega-3 fatty acids is not only empowering, but may be life changing for you and your loved ones. Everyone from infant age all the way up to the young at heart can benefit from increasing Omega-3 levels in their bodies.
If Omega-3's help the brain function better, then why aren't we making sure we get enough of it on a daily basis? Let's think about what kind of advantages school age children would gain from more Omega-3's. Academic performance like focusing on tests and absorbing important information would improve. Athletic ability and recovery time would also profit from boosting Omega-3 levels in the body.
Omega-3's fall under a category called "brain food". A study found in the U.S. National Library of Medicine states:
Certain information processing and affective coping responses of the central nervous system are facilitated by bioavailability of omega-3 fatty acids, is tentatively supported by developmental and epidemiological evidence that dietary deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids results in diminished synaptic plasticity and impaired learning, memory and emotional coping performance later in life.
What's alarming is that according to recent statistics, 70% of Americans are deficient in Omega-3's. Refer to our Omega-3 War Part I blog to understand why we are not getting enough Omega-3's in our diet.
Omega-3's play three main roles in the brain:
1. Build brain cell membranes
2. Reduce brain inflammation
3. Promote new brain cell formation
Both mood and memory have been found to benefit from Omega-3 intake. In order to protect the brain from depression, dementia and other brain disorders, taking an Omega-3 supplement or eating wild fish several times a week may be a good place to start. Making sure you know where your fish are harvested is very important since farm raised fish have higher levels of Omega-6 fats that can lead to inflammation in the body. More information regarding this can be found in part III of our Omega-3 blog series next week.
Omega-3 fatty acids can be broken down into two groups:
1. EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
2. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).
DHA is considered to be the primary brain benefitting component, however EPA also has some brain boosting benefits.
So here's the skinny on DHA. The cerebral cortex is the part of the brain responsible for memory, language, abstraction, creativity, judgment, emotion and attention. DHA is the primary structural component of the cerebral cortex.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, low DHA levels have been linked to depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, memory loss, and Alzheimer’s. This applies to seniors, whose higher DHA levels correlate to a reduction in Alzheimer's and dementia. DHA even protects the brain by diminishing age-related mental decline while improving memory and learning ability in older adults. What is fascinating is that individuals with low DHA levels have been shown to have smaller brains. Their cognitive function is impaired as compared to their counterparts with normal DHA levels.
Developing brains must receive enough Omega-3's for nerve formation and vision development. Infants who do not get enough Omega-3 fatty acids from their mothers during pregnancy are at risk for developing both vision and nerve problems. Symptoms of omega-3 fatty acid deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, cardiovascular problems, mood swings, depression, and poor circulation.