Fish Oil for Brain Health
You have probably heard how fish oil is good for you, and with a good enough reason: it carries tremendous benefits for your skin and heart. But did you know that there is another reason to get hooked on these tiny gold capsules? Fish oil is amazing for your brain.
In fact, studies reveal that brain tissue has the highest concentration of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), a type of fatty acid found in abundance in the oil from fatty fish like herring, mackerel, and salmon. DHA, together with eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), act as the two major building blocks for your brain, and fortunately, both are found in fish oil.
Needless to say, you should already be piling your plate high with all the fatty fish to make the most out of these brain-boosting benefits. But if you are a fitness freak and the idea of getting more fat from your diet is a concern, experts have already debunked the myth that might be keeping you from getting some fish oil: it does not add any weight to your body. In fact, it works oppositely by supporting a healthy weight through healthy blood sugar regulation, promoting early satiety, and maintaining a healthy inflammatory response.
Now back to the main question: how does fish oil benefit your brain? Let’s dive in and find out.
The Secret Ingredient of Fish Oil: The Powerful Omega-3s
The benefits of fish oil on the heart are well-known, but experts now believe it is also vital for brain health, thanks to its abundant omega-3 fatty acid content. Omega-3 fatty acids, or omega-3s, are polyunsaturated fats that are single-handedly responsible for many of fish oil’s health benefits on mental and brain health. There are two primary types of omega-3s in fish oil: EPA and DHA. These two fatty acids possess powerful anti-inflammatory functions within the body and are also key components of cell membranes in the brain. They are also well-known for their roles in heart health and human development.
Considering the standard human diet, DHA and EPA are almost exclusively found in fish oil and fatty fish. But because most people fail to consume the recommended amount of fish per week, millions are likely to fall short of getting enough omega-3s through diet. An alternative mechanism of getting EPA and DHA is through another type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is commonly found in flaxseeds, soybeans, canola oil, and walnuts. But because humans cannot efficiently convert ALA to DHA and EPA, taking fish oil supplements remains the last resort for filling the nutritional gap.
Fish Oil and Brain Health: What’s the Connection?
The well-earned reputation of fish oil as a heart-healthy substance is due to its EPA content which promotes a healthy inflammatory response and cardiovascular health. DHA, on the other hand, is the one to thank for improving brain health and promoting nerve cells by maintaining healthy brain cell membranes. But because 60 percent of your brain comprises fat, both EPA and DHA are crucial for its normal development and function at every step of life.
Here are a few ways in which fish oil can benefit your brain:
It preserves brain function
Omega-3s in fish oils protect the brain cells from cellular stress while inhibiting inflammatory markers from supporting cognitive health and function. Evidence also suggests that omega-3s also play a role in balancing brain size. A 2014 study investigating postmenopausal women found that those with higher EPA and DHA levels in their blood had larger hippocampal volume and total normal brain volume, depicting a higher cognitive function. Simply put, the study confirms that omega-3s appear to preserve brain cells while delaying their age-related loss overall.
It is a memory-healthy nutrient
Misplacing things, forgetting names, and fumbling with words- it eventually happens to many of us. Age-related cognitive decline is real, and it can deeply affect overall cognition and memory. While aging does not spare anyone, there are certain steps you can take to preserve your memory. Besides adopting a brain-friendly lifestyle, adding more EPA and DHA to your diet may significantly protect and support memory and performance. Because EPA and DHA are intrinsic parts of your brain cells, increasing their consumption can improve memory and cell-to-cell communication.
Occasionally misplacing your keys or mixing up names does not necessarily mean that you should be worried about memory decline. Nevertheless, it’s never too late to start taking steps to maintain overall cognitive wellness.
Fish oil’s other cognitive benefits
While consuming fish oil cannot give you cerebral superpowers, optimizing their intake can bring the following benefits:
Better brain circulation
Evidence suggests that consuming omega-3s also supports healthy blood as these fatty acids cross the blood-brain barrier and regulate mood-related pathways in the brain.
Buying a Fish Oil Supplement: What to Look for?
As you go out hunting for a good fish oil supplement, always read the label very carefully to check the following information:
Amount of omega-3
Make sure you choose a fish oil supplement with adequate levels of EPA and DHA, high enough to fulfill your body’s daily requirements.
Type of omega-3s
Certain fish oil supplements have very little if any, DHA and EPA and may contain other irrelevant omega-3s in higher quantities. Avoid those.
Form of omega-3s
Prefer a supplement with FFA (free fatty acids), PLs (phospholipids), and TG/rTG (triglycerides/ refined triglycerides) as they absorb more freely than EE (ethyl esters).
Always choose a supplement with a GOED standard for purity, as they are effective and safe.
Omega-3s are cango rancid relatively quickly and may become less potent or even harmful. So always check the date and smell the product before buying it.
Your brain is a crucial organ that decides how you experience and interact with the world. It is also a cerebral library where you keep your life’s most precious memories. So the sooner you start doing something about its health and wellness, the better. Increasing your fish oil intake is a great place to start, as you would be giving your brain the crucial ingredients it needs to maintain cognitive performance and health in the long haul.
- Frequently Asked Questions
While its true that the fish oil you get from consuming fatty dish every week is good for the brain, it does not necessarily boost your cognitive abilities. Especially if you are already consuming them adequately, adding a fish oil supplement to your diet will not make you any smarter. Remember that it is also not an intelligent pill that can make you start remembering things better.
The answer to this question depends. If cheeseburgers and pizzas are your main meals, its likely that you are running low on EPA and DHA from your food. In that case, you may consider following a Mediterranean diet or look for other ways to include more fatty fish in your diet. But before you start stocking up salmon, keep in mind that overeating fatty fish can do more harm than good. So to be on the safe side, limit your fatty fish intake to two servings per week to keep yourself save from heavy metals commonly present in these fish. You may also consider taking a high-quality fish oil supplement. Whatever way you choose to get fish oil, remember that a healthy adult needs 1000 mg of DHA and 1400 mg of EPA per day.
It usually takes up to one month for the body to develop optimal levels of DHA and EPA in blood. However, for the brain and heart, these omega-3s may take up to 3 months to saturate these areas.
- Docosahexaenoic Acid and Cognition throughout the Lifespan
- Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life
- U.S. adults are not meeting recommended levels for fish and omega-3 fatty acid intake: results of an analysis using observational data from NHANES 2003-2008
- Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation on Memory Functions in Healthy Older Adults
- Effects of Long Chain Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids on Brain Function in Mildly Hypertensive Older Adults