Need A Brain Boost? Omega-3s To The Rescue!

Girl with caught fish

For a long time now, we’ve known that our flavorful, fatty American diet contains the wrong kinds of fats (or imbalanced intake of fats) hanging out in the wrong places in our bodies, causing discomfort, foggy brain, sluggish circulation and so much more. In response to this knowledge, we have seen a wave of programs suggesting we cut fats altogether without realizing that all fats are NOT created equally.

Good fats, like the omegas found in fish and some plant foods, help counterbalance our over-consumption of other fats, bringing our omega profile back into a healthy balance. However, eating foods with a high, “good” omega count can be challenging, especially because in our fast-paced world learning new ways to think about food, how we should cook or order from restaurants or which foods to throw out of our cupboards can create more stress than we’re prepared to handle.

This is where supplements may come in to play a role and make a difference. In these studies, researchers looked at the impact of different omegas on brain health. Find out more.

Omega-3 and Alzheimer’s disease

People with a gene mutation known as APOE4 (E4) are four times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Doctors thought those with E4 would need larger doses of the omega-3 DHA—one of the most prevalent fatty acids in the brain—to have adequate levels in their brain matter.

In this six-month study, 33 men and women, 15 with E4, at least age 55, with a family history of AD, but without the disease themselves, took a placebo or 2,152 mg of DHA per day, which included 0.1 percent EPA. Both groups restricted other polyunsaturated fatty acids, and took B complex vitamins including 1 mg of vitamin B12, 100 mg of B6, and 800 mcg of folic acid per day. B-vitamins help the body process omega-3s.

Discussing the findings, doctors said, “E4 carriers, despite having the same dose, had less omega-3s in the brain.” E4 carriers also had one-third the increase of EPA in spinal fluid compared to non-E4 participants.

Reference: The Lancet; 2020, PIIS2352-3964(20)30258-9

Omega-3, memory & hand-eye coordination

Plaques can build up on the walls of arteries that serve the heart, increasing chances for adverse heart events, but also increasing chances for cognitive decline. In this study, 250 cognitively healthy people with arterial plaque buildup, took a placebo or 3,360 mg of marine EPA and DHA per day.

After 30 months, while the placebo group did not improve, those taking omega-3s had improved hand-eye coordination and better verbal fluency. Both those with and without type 2 diabetes improved, but non-diabetics began improving at 12 months.

Doctors use the Omega-3 Index, which measures levels of circulating omega-3 fatty acids, to gauge chances for adverse heart events. The cognitive benefits in the study emerged as circulating levels of omega-3s reached four percent. Doctors said the study findings show that marine omega-3s can improve cognition even in those with normal cognitive function, before cognitive decline begins.

Reference: AHA Journals – Circulation; December, 2019, No. 140, Abstract 10723

Fatty Fish for Migraine

Adding fish oil and decreasing vegetable oil in the diet reduced migraine in adults. Americans typically get more plant-based omega-6 oils than omega-3 oils because processed foods are everywhere.

In this study, 182 people with migraine increased EPA and DHA while leaving omega-6s the same, or reducing omega-6s. Both groups reported fewer migraine days, with the group that lowered omega-6s seeing the most relief. A third group that kept omega-3s and -6s the same reported no change.

A component of omega-3 which stimulates substances that inhibit the sensation of pain—17-hydroxydocosahexaenoic acid—increased in both omega-3 groups, which doctors said could affect many types of chronic pain.

Reference: BMJ; 2021, 374:n1448, Published Online

Walnuts for Cognition

Walnuts contain omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols, both of which help counteract the oxidative stress and inflammation that can cause cognitive decline. In this study, 636 men and women, aged 63 to 79, living independently in California or in Spain, ate one to two ounces of walnuts per day, or did not eat walnuts.

After two years, while there were no significant benefits in healthy adults, those who had smoked more, and who had lower initial neuropsychological—how brain health affects cognition—test scores, saw improvements in brain structure and function as measured through magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans, after eating walnuts.

Reference: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 2020, Vol. 111, No. 3, 590-600

BetsyHealth Note: This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Consult your healthcare provider before trying a supplement, especially if you have a medical condition, including being pregnant or nursing, take prescription or over-the-counter medications, or are planning on having surgery.

Article copyright 2022 by Natural Insights for Well Being. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Photo by Tom Fisk:

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