Do you eat fish regularly?
Do you take Omega 3 fatty acid supplements?
You may want to consider it, because the role of Omega 3 fatty acids in protecting our brain health is becoming more and more robust.
Today I wanted to round up my favorite medical studies for you on how fatty acids impact our brain function so you can see why it’s one of my absolute favorite supplements to recommend.
Here are my top three reasons why I take fish oil every single day myself:
Protecting Brain Volume:
The medical literature suggests that higher levels of Omega 3 fatty acids help protect the brain as we age. Published in Neurology, researchers found that higher omega-3 levels is neuroprotective, slowing the loss of brain volume that occurs as we get older.
For this study, researchers look at more than 1000 postmenopausal women using both blood samples and MRI imaging. They found that higher Omega 3 intake was associated with a higher total normal brain and hippocampus volume… a measurement that was directly related to omega-3 fatty acid levels. Total brain volume was significantly smaller in the women with the lowest quartile of omega-3 index when compared with those in the highest quartile.
In addition, the hippocampus (the area of the brain specifically related to cognitive function) was protected as well… found to be significantly smaller in the lowest vs the highest quartile of omega-3 levels. These results were statistical significant even after controlling for age, lipid levels, glucose, blood pressure, education level, and hormone therapy replacement.
Researchers noted that these effects would be possible by “taking about 1000 mg of EPA + DHA every day or by eating a small portion of salmon or sardines every day. So it’s not difficult to do.”
Protecting Brain Function:
An even newer study, published in Nature Communications, found that psychotic illness could potentially be prevented — even seven years later — simply by a brief three month intervention with Omega 3 fatty acids!
These results are so incredible they should be shouted and touted from every news outlet, media forum and in every physician’s office… so share share share this study with your loved ones. Here’s why:
- 81 patients at “ultra high risk” for psychosis in young adulthood (median age 16.5 years) were followed in this double blind, placebo study
- Half the patients received 12 weeks of fish oil supplements (700 mg EPA and 480 mg DHA) or placebo capsules matched in appearance and flavor
- Patients were followed for almost 7 years to determine what, if any, long term effect the fish oil had on preventing psychosis
- The Omega 3 supplements significantly reduced psychotic illness, dropping the occurrence rate from 40% of patients having a psychotic episode (in the placebo group) to less than 10% of patients (in the fish oil group) having a psychotic episode.
Not only did fish oil continue to prevent psychosis years and years later, but patients who received the placebo experienced an onset of psychosis much more quickly than patients that received fish oil. This suggests that if the fish oil was given for longer than 3 months, it may have prevented those remaining patients from having break through psychotic episodes.Fish oil also cut the number of patients who needed to go on anti-psychotic medications almost in half… from 54% (in placebo group) to only 29% (in the fish oil group.)
So all in all, fish oil:
- prevented the vast majority of psychotic episodes, dropping the incidence of psychosis from 40% to under 10%
- had long term benefits that extended out over the entire 7 year follow up interval
- prevented the rate of occurrence, extending the amount of time before patients experienced psychosis
- decreased the patients reliance on prescription anti-psychotics, cutting the need for medication almost in half
As I talked about above, fish oil has already been shown to protect the brain in older adults, by preventing age-related brain changes and preserving brain volume, so this study rounds out the idea that Omega 3 fatty acids are essential throughout life by focusing on the brain health of adolescents and young adults.
Protecting Brain Development:
But what about even younger? What about when our brain develops in the first place, during fetal development? The studies above suggests just how neuroprotective these fats are to our adult brains, but what about our developing brains?
Researchers have begun to discover what effect omega 3 fatty acids might have on our neurological development as a baby. We already know that low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids is a possible risk factor for the mom to develop postpartum depression (read that study here) but what about her unborn child? Do those low levels of Omega 3 fatty acids in the cord blood going to her developing baby have any long term consequence on the neurological development of her child years later?
Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers found that the fatty acid concentration in cord blood is correlated to neurodevelopmental behavioral difficulties an entire decade after birth. Researchers followed over 400 children in a longitudinal study from birth to age 10, analyzing venous cord blood taken at birth with health outcomes a decade later in the same child.
What they found was clinically significant: increases in fatty acid cord blood concentrations correlated with a statistically significant protective benefit from neurologic developmental disorders, decreasing total difficulties including hyperactivity, ADHD, behavioral issues, emotional issues, attention span, anxiety and depression.
The researchers conclusion is that, independent of family income, the child’s subsequent dietary intake of fatty acids, even independent from health issues during pregnancy, the “availability of fatty acids in newborns correlate with later scores on behavioral screens” which included both emotional and behavioral neurological difficulties.
Ok so the bottom line?
Omega 3 fatty acids impact our brain’s function… throughout our entire lifetime.
If you do not regularly consume high quality, wild caught fish you may want to consider Omega 3 fatty acid supplementation to protect brain function.
Want to give omega 3 fatty acid supplements a try?
I have my very favorite, brain protective supplements listed for you right here, including the Omega 3 fatty acid supplement that I personally take: