Omega-3 fatty acids have earned their reputation as a global powerhouse in the battle against heart disease. Found in a wide range of fish such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel, Omega-3 fatty acids contain polyunsaturated fats that, when substituted for the often highly saturated fatty acids found in meat, can help lower the elevated triglyceride levels often associated with heart disease.
While initial studies often focused on the cardiovascular benefits of Omega-3, recent reports reveal that these “healthy fats” also have an impact on a multitude of body functions such as blood pressure, overall inflammation, and most importantly, brain health. There are two primary omega-3 fatty acids:
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid)
- DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
While each offers distinctive health benefits, DHA is considered the most vital omega-3 for cognitive health, accounting for up to 97% of the total omega-3 fatty acids found in the brain.
What To Know About Omega-3 Fats And Cognitive Function
Omega-3 fatty acids are categorized as “essential” because our bodies can’t reproduce them on our own; we must ingest it in various forms to reap its many benefits. When included as part of a healthy diet, omega-3 can impact brain wellness and function in several key ways:
Combat Age-Related Brain Decline
In older adults, lower levels of DHA in the blood may accelerate brain aging. Several studies suggest that taking omega-3 fatty supplements may improve cell function in people with various types of brain conditions, especially age-related cognitive decline, mild memory loss, and depression.
Build Brain Function In Infants
While omega-3s for brain function are often used in older adults to slow memory loss due to aging, both EPA and DHA are critical for normal brain utility and development throughout all stages of life, beginning at birth. Statistics indicate that DHA is essential for visual and neurological development in infants. Nearly all brands of formula sold in the United States are fortified with DHA to supplement levels of this brain-building fat.
Improve Mental Health Symptoms
As mental health research continues to expand and improve, new non-medicinal means of managing symptoms of mental health disorders continue to surface — one of which is omega-3 fatty acids. A recent clinical study found fish oil supplements seemed to boost the effects of antidepressants and improved various symptoms in people with depression. Beyond depression, current studies are also exploring the impact of this fatty acid on a multitude of other conditions such as ADHD, borderline personality, and post-partum depression.
Beyond Fish (And Fish Oil)
While fish oil is the most popular over-the-counter supplement for EPA and DHA, you can also get ALA (alpha-Linolenic acid), another omega-3 fatty acid, from flaxseed, chia seeds, canola oil, walnuts, and certain types of eggs. Consult with your doctor to determine how much omega-3 you should consume in your diet to ensure you are reaping the many brain benefits offered by this fatty acid.