Let’s talk about how Omega-3 fatty acids affect your brain, that big lump of white matter floating around inside your skull.
I introduced Omega-3 fatty acids in my last article, now I am going to focus on their effects on your brain
Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are fundamental in allowing your brain to function normally, they are also critical in the development of your brain though out every stage of your life from fetial development to the elderly.
In fact, multiple studies have shown that women who ingested fish oils or ate fish regularly throughout their pregnancy go on to have children who, when tested in their early childhood result in higher scores for intelligence and brain function. (1, 2)
Throughout life, these fatty acids play a vital role in normal brain function where they are critical in preserving cell membrane health and can facilitate communication between brain cells. (3)
The older we get the more imported maintaining optimal levels of omega-3 becomes. Lower levels of DHA in the blood have been associated with smaller brain sizes which are a sign of accelerated brain ageing. (4)
A very brief history lesson
Over the last century (with a handful of exceptions) the global adult population has experienced an unprecedented deficiency in omega-3 EPA and DHA acids. Primary drivers include the reduced consumption of fatty fish and the reduction in omega-3 levels in fish that have been farmed for ‘mass-production’. Alongside the significant increase in the consumption of dietary Omega-6 found predominantly in seed oils and processed foods, which have become abundant in the modern diet.
Omega-3 and Omega-6 compete for the same enzymes and given the disproportionate intake of Omega 6 to Omega-3 it’s no surprise that the majority of the world’s population is deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids.
With Omega-3 fatty acids playing an important role in brain function and development with several studies suggesting that the consumption of fish oils in supplemental form may improve brain function in people with mild types of cognitive impairment (MCI) or age-related cognitive decline. (5, 6)
Researchers found that taking 1.8 grams of omega-3s from fish oil supplements daily for 24 weeks improved brain function in people with MCI. (7)
Reviews of clinical studies have found that taking fish oil supplements improved depression symptoms in people with depression compared to those on anti-depressant medications, with the grates improvements seen when the fish oil supplement contained higher doses of EPA. (8)
EPA has been thought to have effects on serotonin and the serotonin receptors in the brain, it is also thought that EPA improves depressive symptoms though it’s anti-inflammatory effects. Additional evidence suggests that fish oil may improve other mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. (9, 10, 11)
The way your body uptakes omega 3 oils is critical and if these pathways are not supported it won’t matter how much oil you take it won’t impact your body in the way that you had intended.
Uptake is more important than intake.
Uptake of omega-3 to your blood cells is critical for increasing your omega-3 index. Conventional research has focused on the intake of EPA and DHA primarily based on the logic that intake determines uptake for the absorption of fat. However, fat digestion needs to be initiated by the release of emulsifying bile salts and pancreatic lipases which occurs effectively only after a high-fat meal rather than a low-fat meal, explaining why the best dietary absorption of omega-3 oils happens after you have eaten. (12, 13, 14)
Having the optimum ratio of omega 6 to 3 fatty acids is essential for optimum brain function. When supplementing it is essential that the oil you use is balanced not only in EPA and DHA but that it includes the correct levels of polyphenols meaning amongst other things that you can still benefit from the positive and protective effects of omega-3 fatty acids without having to consume a high-fat meal.
To find out more about how you can test your levels of Omega 6:3 send me an email or book a free call.