Omega-3 fatty acids are popularly known for their heart health benefits. Numerous studies have shown that these beneficial fatty acids can help reduce triglycerides, calm inflammation and help prevent clotting – important attributes for prevention of heart disease. However, the benefits of omega-3s extend well beyond the heart to the joints, skin and brain.
When it comes to brain health, omega-3s are integral to the development and maintenance of the brain as well as preservation of cognitive function and memory as we age.
Omega-3 fatty acids, namely docosahexaeonic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaeonic acid (EPA) serve at the building blocks of for the billions of neurons in our brain. They begin to accumulate in the brain during fetal development. The amount of omega-3 DHA in the brain has been linked to intelligence and cognitive performance. The benefits of these fatty acids for brain development and growth are so strong that in recent years there have been changes to guidelines for nutritional recommendations in pregnancy and in infants to include omega-3 fatty acids.
The neuroprotective benefits of omega-3s are tied to the ability of these fatty acids to reduce inflammation and protect against oxidative damage and chronic insults.
They also possess antidepressant properties and show promise for the treatment of anxiety, schizophrenia, ADHD, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, bipolar disorder and other mental disorders.
As we age, the omega-3 fatty acid content of brain cell membranes diminishes. Levels are found to be particularly lower in those with chronic brain disorders such as Alzheimer’s. Recent research has found that supplementing with omega-3s can help to improve and even reverse age-related cognitive decline that is associated with omega-3 deficiency.
Health authorities typically recommend a minimum of 1000 mg of EPA and DHA daily for heart health. The range of omega-3s that has shown to be beneficial for brain health is between 1000 to 3000 mg of EPA and 1000 to 1500 mg of DHA daily.
Omega-3 fatty acids are found abundantly in fish, such as salmon, herring, sardines, tuna, and halibut, as well as algae, krill, and to a smaller extent in plants such as chia seed and flaxseed.
Considering it is almost impossible to get this amount of omega-3 fatty acids from diet alone, and due to concerns about contamination of fish with mercury, lead and PCBs, supplements are a smart way to get a consistent and safe amount of omega-3s.