The Nutrient that Could Change Your Brain!
Author: Riley Pearce
Social Media Director
Personal Trainer – Byward Market
Ever have someone tell you “eat that! It’s good for your brain!”? Ever wonder why?
With a complex organ ruling our every move and emotion, researchers have done a ton of work looking into the specific nutrients that could improve the overall health of the brain. There is one nutrient in particular that is especially powerful when it comes to optimal brain health.
OMEGA-3’S (Specifically DHA)
In the standard north american diet, it has been observed that our omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is at about 20:1, when it should be 1:1. Although it is good to have omega-6’s in our diet, these fatty acids have been known to be inflammatory when consumed in high quantities.
Omega-3’s are commonly broken down into DHA, DPA, and EPA. These 3 omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (Omega-3 PUFA’s) are the focus of many brain health, metabolism, and anti-cancer studies.
In your brain these 3 are critical to the function and health of the brain. In a study published in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, which reviewed a number of studies on the effects of Omega-3 PUFA’s on the brain, it was discovered that as DHA levels decrease in the brain, it begins to alter the structure of the brain cells, it decreases our ability to perform simple tasks and to call on spatial memory. Furthermore, decreases in DHA were found to alter our brain’s ability to send messages to the rest of the body.
Not convinced this nutrient is crucial to your brain health?
In another study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers found that in patients with dementia, it was consistently found that they had low levels of Omega-3’s in the body. Research is now suggesting that supplementing Omega-3’s could help keep Alzheimer’s at bay as well.
Omega-3’s are truly powerhouse fatty acids in our bodies. In a study where elderly participants were given DHA supplements, it was seen that their geriatric depressive symptoms decreased, their overall cognitive function increased, and their memory improved.
The benefits of this are not reserved for our later years either. Omega-3’s were also found to improve the brain function of children with attention deficit disorder and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Teachers, parents and researchers all observed better attention and focus from the children and there were no harmful side effects.
Where Can You Get DHA (and other Omega 3’s)?
Omega 3’s can be found in many foods. Fatty fish, algae (vegan source), fortified foods like milk and eggs can all provide you with omega 3’s. This is usually in the form of ALA, which the body can then use to make DHA and EPA.
If you want to consume high amounts of DHA and EPA, these can be found in foods like Anchovies (1.54g/75g), Caviar (1.96g/75g), Salted, uncooked mackerel (3.43g/75g), Atlantic Salmon, raw or cooked, (1.61 -1.77g/75g), and Ghee, clarified butter (1447mg/100g).
You can find more sources of ALA, DHA and EPA in this document from the Dietitians of Canada.
Omega-3’s are also available in supplement form. There a few ways supplement companies can source their omega-3’s. Krill oil, fish oil, or for those allergic to fish or looking for a vegan option, algae.
When choosing your omega-3 supplement you need to take into account the potency, the source of the supplement, your budget, and your preferred method of consumption (oil or capsule).
Oils are usually a higher potency, but you have to go endure a sometimes very strong fishy aftertaste, although krill and vegan supplements do not have this issue. Krill oil is usually your best option for potency and the source because the larger fish used for fish oil supplements have a higher chance of contact with heavy metals and other ocean pollutants.
Check out this list from Smarter Reviews to see a complete list of the top Omega-3 supplements.
The dietitians of canada suggest that if you want to get the recommended amount of essential fatty acids, to consume at least 2 servings of fatty fish a week. Whole food sources should always be your first option, but if you want to boost your brain power, then adding an omega-3 supplement to your daily routine could be beneficial.