Protecting Brain Health with Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs)

The omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are classified as “essential” nutrients for the human 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, in this article we highlight their importance to brain health. Fatty acids nourish and protect brain cells and help reduce inflammation. Scientists are actively investigating the role EFAs play in preventing and managing age-related cognitive decline.

When we consume EFAs, the body will use what it needs and then stores 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 organic, wild caught options. Your holistic physician can help you with dietary options and EFA supplement that best meets your needs.

References

  • Assisi A., Banzi R., Buonocore C., et al. “Fish oil and mental health: the role of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in cognitive development and neurological disorders.” Int Clin Psychopharmacol. 2006 Nov;21(6):319-36. Accessed 8 April 2018: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17012979
  • Freund-Levi Y, Eriksdotter-Jonhagen M, Cederholm T, et al. “Omega-3 fatty acid treatment in 174 patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer disease: OmegAD study: a randomized double-blind trial.” Arch Neurol. 2006 Oct;63(10):1402-8. Accessed 8 April 2018: http://www.utdallas.edu/~tres/papers/freund-levi.2006.pdf
  • Robinson, Jennifer G, Nkechinyere Ijioma, and William Harris. “Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Cognitive Function in Women.” Women’s health (London, England)6.1 (2010): 119–134. PMC. Web. 8 Apr. 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2826215/
  • Maclean CH, Issa AM, Newberry SJ, et al. Effects of Omega‐3 Fatty Acids on Cognitive Function with Aging, Dementia, and Neurological Diseases: Summary. (2005 Feb.) In: AHRQ Evidence Report Summaries. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 1998-2005. 114. Accessed 8 Apr 2018: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11893/
  • Cederholm, T., Salem, N. & Jan Palmblad; ω-3 Fatty Acids in the Prevention of Cognitive Decline in Humans, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 4, Issue 6, 1 November 2013, Pages 672–676. Accessed 8 Apr 2018: https://doi.org/10.3945/an.113.004556
  • Ricardo U., Dangour, A.D. “Nutrition in Brain Development and Aging: Role of Essential Fatty Acids” Nutrition Reviews (May 2006)64 (suppl 2) S24-S33; DOI: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2006.tb00242.x http://nutritionreviews.oxfordjournals.org/content/64/suppl_2/S24
  • NutritionData.com. Foods Highest in Total Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Accessed 7 Nov 2016. http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-012140000000000000000.html?maxCount=20

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