Good Fats, Great Brain: The omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are classified as “essential” nutrients for the humans because they cannot be made by the body. Hence the term, Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). Since the body cannot make EFAs, we have to acquire what we need from food and nutritional supplements.
While EFAs are important to overall health, they’ve proven to be especially important to brain health. Fatty acids nourish and protect brain cells and help reduce inflammation.
As we age, the rise in damaging oxidative stress can contribute to a decline in membrane fatty acid concentrations and potentially lead to cognitive impairment. Scientists are actively investigating how replenishing fatty acids may play an key role in preventing and managing age-related cognitive decline.
When we consume EFAs, the body will use what it needs and then store the rest for future use. Brain tissue is especially rich in EFAs where it is important for protecting connections between nerve cells. So, a diet deficient in these fats deprives the brain and nervous system of a crucial nutritional substance.
Scientists believe DHA protects against Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and dementia. Adults with insufficient intake of DHA show poor performance on cognitive tests as well as increased risk for age-related cognitive decline. In studies using an EFA supplement, there have been positive changes in memory related functions for individuals with very mild AD.
Because we must get EFAs from food or nutritional supplements, it’s important to understand what our bodies need. Most Americans get a daily average of only 130 mg EPA + DHA – far below the 1000-2000 mg recommended for optimal health and cognitive function.
We also need the proper ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid. Too little omega-3 and too much omega-6 can result in increased inflammation. Eating a variety of EFA rich foods plus a supplement is a good option for many people.
People who have a high intake of fish consumption show a decreased risk for dementia and AD. Foods abundant in EFAs include salmon, chunk light tuna, halibut, sardines, and krill, as well as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts.
Be mindful of the source of your fish, since some are high in mercury. Look for wild caught options. Your physician can help you with dietary options and suggest an EFA supplement that best meets your needs.
This fish oil, from Costco’s Kirkland brand, is a great value and contains 410 mg of EPA and 274 mg of DHA.