How Omega-3 Fish Oil Affects Your Brain and Mental Health
It’s time to fill up on omega-3 fats, the No. 1 brain nutrient for protecting against Alzheimer’s, easing depression and anxiety, and calming ADHD.
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Not long ago, many of us seemed to accept the notion that we use only 10 percent of our brains, as if the other 90 percent would remain a mystery forever. Not only has that myth been debunked, but research on the brain is exploding, and scientists are continually learning more about this untapped human resource.
Key omega-3 fatty acids—eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—are tried-and-true brain nutrients. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t eat a diet rich in omega-3s fats (primarily found in oily, cold-water fish). This increases the risk of inflammatory diseases, including debilitating cognitive function.
Science-Based Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
1. EPA and DHA Cognitive Benefits in People 50+
A 2018 study published in the journal Nutrients shows that higher blood levels of EPA and DHA are associated with cognitive benefits in older adults (the average age of subjects was 57). Interestingly, blood levels of the long-chain omega-6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid, were associated with a 26 percent increased risk for developing cognitive impairment over two years of observation. Arachidonic acid is found in foods such as corn and corn oil, meats, cheese, and eggs, especially non-organic and/or non-grass-fed versions.
2. Omega-3s and Alzheimer’s Disease, Depression, & Anxiety
Studies on Alzheimer’s, anxiety, and depression show a positive correlation with the use of omega-3s. According to a study from the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, Alzheimer’s patients were shown to have lower levels of certain nutrients, including a lower brain availability of DHA.
3. ADHD and Omega-3 Deficiency
The research on ADHD consistently shows that children and adolescents with ADHD have deficiencies in omega-3s. And according to a study in Scientific Reports, children who eat fish at least once per week sleep better and score an average of four points higher on IQ tests.
Given the simple fact that our bodies cannot make EPA and DHA (and most people don’t get enough from food), combined with burgeoning research emphasizing that our brains need them, supplementing our diets with a rich and pure source of omega-3s seems like a “no-brainer.”
4. Omega-3s & Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major cause of death and disability affecting 1.5 million people each year. And there’s reason to believe that omega-3s can help. Famed nutritionist JJ Virgin, author of The Virgin Diet and other books, says that fish oils healed her son’s brain damage, restoring him back to health following a car crash where he suffered skull fractures and bleeding on the brain. Visit jjvirgin.com to hear a podcast about nutritional therapy and alternative medicine as it relates to TBI (type “traumatic brain injury” in the search box).
According to a study published in Military Medicine (“Neuroprotection for the Warrior”), omega-3s have a protective effect at the cellular and neuronal levels of the brain following TBI. The researchers recommend a daily regimen of omega-3s for everyone, but up to 3 grams for athletes, soldiers, or anyone at risk of brain impact. Supplementing with omega-3s prior to injury can also be useful and effective in recovery.
Dr. Hyman’s Broken Brain Series
Leave it to renowned health crusader and best-selling author Mark Hyman, MD—always on the leading edge of functional medicine—to create a powerful and eye-opening docuseries on brain health. The 8-part Broken Brain series features 50+ experts discussing the root causes of Alzheimer’s, dementia, ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety, concussions, and more. Watch all episodes (free!) at brokenbrain.com.