Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Brain Health

Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Brain Health


Insufficient intake of omega 3 fatty acids is linked to virtually every known modern disease, including weight problems, arthritis, allergies, depression, learning disorders and inflammatory diseases. 

Omega-3 fatty acids are easily the most deficient nutrient in the typical Western diet and they are indispensable for the proper functioning of the brain and the body. Primitive sources of this fatty acid in our diet included the meat and organs of grass fed game and wild caught fish. Because the meat we eat no longer grazes and the fish are farm raised, the omega-3 in the food we typically eat is seriously decreased.

It is hypothesized that because this nutrient was so prevalent in our early ancestors diet, that it was responsible for the threefold increase in the size of the human brain (Aiello et al. 1995) What is really distressing is the size of the human brain has decreased by as much as 10 percent in the last century and researchers believe that it is because of the deficiency of EPA/DHA or omega-3 in our diets and the increased consumption of processed foods (Leonard et al. 2003)

The list of disorders that a lack of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA/DHA) causes is extensive. Some of them are:

· Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, postpartum depression

· ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, memory problems, violent tendencies, learning problems

· Irritability, fatigue

· Allergies, skin problems, eczema, cracked skin on heels and fingers, dry hair, brittle nails

· Heart disease, high blood pressure

· Carbohydrate and sugar cravings, alcoholism, hyperglycemia

· Cancer

· Inflammatory diseases

· Diabetes

· IBS, Chron’s disease, ulcerative colitis

· Dry eyes, PMS

· Immune system problems

· Healthy hormone balance

Besides the decrease in the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, the other big problem with the typical Western diet is the over consumption of omega-6 fatty acids, which competes for omega-3 fatty acids on the cell membrane. This is because of the increased consumption of grains, nuts, seeds and vegetable oils. This excess of omega-6 fatty acids dominates the phospholipid membrane of the cells in the brain and nervous system, blocking the ability of omega-3 to get in and do its job. Omega-6 fatty acids also exacerbate the inflammatory process in the body.

Then there are the dreaded trans fats. The most insidious source of interference with the vital omega-3 fatty acids. Once these trans fats get in to the body, it takes two years for the body to get rid of them. Sources are margarine, vegetable shortening, canola oil, almost all commercial baked goods, fast foods and processed foods. Also salad dressings and soy oil. The labels may say “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated”, but these should be avoided at all costs! Trans fat consumption causes metabolic chaos in the body and they have been linked to diseases ranging from neurological problems to cancer. They have also been linked to a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease and most certainly have no known health benefits.

The recommended dose for EPA/DHA is around 2,000 mg per day. If problems such as bipolar disorder or severe depression or other mood or learning disorders are present, the dose can be increased to five times that. All EPA/DHA is not created equal! If the company is using fish that are too large, or junk fish hauled in by nets, the fish is most probably contaminated by mercury. The sources that we sell have been checked by independent companies for purity, quality and mercury contamination.

Krill oil has gotten a lot of attention lately as a source of EPA/DHA. It is usually more expensive, but it has a naturally occurring protective and very powerful anti-oxidant in it call astaxanthin, a carotenoid. It doesn’t seem to have the side effect of the sometimes fishy aftertaste and is even better for the brain. It takes less of the krill oil to do the same thing as traditional fish oil.

For children, cod-liver oil is an excellent addition to the diet. One to two teaspoons a day is a good source of omega-3, and vitamins A and D.

We have an excellent test available that you can do right at home to determine your omega-3 status and also look at your trans fat status as well as other fatty acids. It is a blood spot test and can be ordered here.

References

Aiello, L.C., et al. 1995. "The Relationship of Dietary Quality and Gut Efficiency to Brain Size/ the Expensive-Tissue Hypothesis:  The Brain and the Digestive System in Human and Primate Evolution." 
Curren Anthropology 36, no. 2: 199-221

Leonard, W.R., et al. 2003. "Metabolic Correlates of Hominid Brain Evolution."  Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular and Integrative Physiology 136: 5-15

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