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Food For Brain: Omega-3

Updated: Sep 1, 2021



Omega-3s are the nutrients one gets from food or supplements which acts as a key to provide a structure to every cell wall. These nutrients are also energy sources and help the working of our brain, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and immune system.


Omega fatty acids contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) with an array of health benefits. These crucial acids are found primarily in certain fatty fishes like sardines, anchovies, mackerel, salmon, and fish oil. DHA via bloodstream reaches our brain. Since we cannot synthesis a large amount of DHA, is it important we get DHA from food and supplements in sufficient amounts. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another omega-3 fatty acid is found in plant-based sources such as seeds and nuts like walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil.


Not only does our body require these fatty acids to function, but also deliver several big health benefits. These essential acids are incorporated in various parts of the body including cell membranes, aiming to preserve cell membrane health and facilitate communication between brain cells. These fatty acids fight inflammation and maintain the structure of the brain in ageing brains. DHA is a key component of all cell membranes and is found in abundance in the brain and retina. EPA and DHA are also the precursors of several metabolites that are potent lipid mediators and is beneficial in the prevention or treatment of several diseases.


New studies suggest that Omega-3s is brain food. It turns out science continues to prove a positive association between omega-3 and brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats responsible for most of the brain and mental health benefits of fish oil. Studies suggest that omega-3 focuses on different brain health areas including brain ageing, depression and Alzheimer’s. EPA and DHA are essential for fetal development and healthy brain ageing. Some studies show that fish oil may reduce the AHDH symptoms in some children aiming to improve mental skills.


A recent clinical study proved that fish oil supplements improved symptoms of depression. Furthermore, better effects were noticed when fish oil supplements contained higher doses of DHA. However, it is still unclear how EPA and omega-3s improve depressive symptoms. Researchers have suggested that this relation may be affected by serotonin and serotonin receptors in our brain. Others have proposed that omega-3s from fish oil could improve depressive symptoms through anti-inflammatory effects. However, more high-quality research is needed before the medical community can make definitive recommendations.


Several studies suggested that fish oil supplements may help to improve mild brain conditions such as mild cognitive impairment or age-related cognitive decline. To prove this, one study provided 485 adults with age-related cognitive decline 900 mg of DHA or placebo daily and after 24 weeks, those who consumed DHA performed better on memory and learning tests. Similarly, another study investigated the effects of 1.8 grams of omega-3s from fish oil supplements daily for 24 weeks and found improvements in brain function in people with mild cognitive impairment. Based on this research, it appears that fish oil supplements may be most beneficial when people start consuming them in the early stages of brain decline function.


Moreover, omega-3 EPA and DHA counteract the ill effects of air pollution on the brain by reducing neurotoxin-related brain damage. When one thinks of air pollution, demolition of the lungs comes to mind but researchers say that it may also indirectly cause brain health damage. When exposed to tiny air pollutants like lead and mercury, the risk of Alzheimer’s, related dementias and accelerated memory loss is at risk. To your surprise, statistics show that at least 30.7% of the deaths can be attributed to air pollution.


Other health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Fish Oil can lower the elevated levels of triglycerides. High triglyceride levels increase the risk of health diseases and strokes.

  • EPA and DHA may curb stiffness and joint pain and may eliminate the risk of Rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Omega-3 acids also seem to boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.

  • DHA appears to be vital for visual and neurological development in infants.

  • A diet high in omega-3s lowers inflammation, a key component in asthma.

  • Studies show fish oil supplements improve lung functions or cut the medication intake for a person who needs to control the condition.


Clearly, it is important to make sure one gets enough omega-3 fatty acids to avoid some of these detrimental effects on brain function and provide the nourishment for development. However, it is challenging to attain the required appropriate levels of EPA and DHA through diet alone even though these acids are produced by water plants and are prevalent in marine animals. ALA is found in many land-based plants but fails to be as beneficial as EPA and DHA. Although ALA attained from food is converted into EPA and DHA by our body, studies prove that only 10% is converted which is not sufficient. Certain drivers of deficiency include reduced consumption of fatty fish, a significant increase in dietary consumption of omega-6 and reductions in farmed fish.


In short, for optimal brain health, structure and function, optimal levels of omega-3 EPA and DHA need to be present in the blood throughout life.