If you can think critically – and rarely forget where you last put the car keys - that is your brain on omega-3 fatty acids.
The essential nutrient has been linked in numerous studies to support heart health, a healthier cholesterol profile, joint mobility and reduced bouts of low moods.
And while most of us are taking fish oil supplements to support a healthier heart (the American Heart Association recommends omega-3s), the brain may be where we see the most benefits.
Because of fish oil’s benefits to the brain, the GOED - the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s, a group made up of omega-3 manufacturers, markets and supporters - has released a new graphic connecting omega-3s and brain health, based on numerous studies extolling the lifetime virtues of the nutrient.
Coming on the heels of the Newsweek magazine headline proclaiming “Omega-3 Supplements Are a Waste of Money” (more on that later) the GOED’s focus on the brain benefits of omega-3s sheds better light on what has become a popular topic.
The two sides of Omega-3s
While there are two fatty acids in omega-3s, DHA and EPA, DHA is the most important, and the one grabbing all the attention.
The most abundant fatty acid in the brain, DHA is a major component of brain cell membranes and needs constant replenishing in order to best do its job.
And despite one magazine story based on one study (Ref. 1), the GOED is not alone in singing the praises of one of the most important nutrients we can feed our brains.
Better fish oil, better benefits
There’s a reason why Newsweek came down hard on fish oil supplements.
Many are pressed from fish harvested from contaminated water, meaning the fish oil supplement itself is a risk, or the processing required to remove contaminants also removes much of the health benefits the oil would otherwise provide.
The eco-friendly fish we use in the omega-3 supplements in our Xtend-Life collection are harvested from the waters off the coast of New Zealand. We also process our fish oil using a two-step process that ensures maximum purity and effectiveness.
Our fish oils (click here to learn more about our four amazing products) are also high in DHA, which is the most important fatty acid for brain health. Some fish oils focus in EPA, and while both are necessary, DHA can be converted to EPA as needed, but it’s really difficult for EPA to be converted to DHA, so it has less overall value.
DHA for aging brains
According to neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter, in a 2012 study of 1,500 dementia-free seniors conducted by the Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Disease Research, those seniors with more DHA in their brains not only had bigger brains, but also better overall memory skills and fewer occurrences of stroke.
The DHA helped encourage the brain to produce new brain cells, protected existing cells from damage and encouraged communication between cells.
DHA also, Perlmutter says, helps support the effects of the COX-2 enzyme, which is responsible for pain and chronic inflammation. (Ref. 2)
When it comes to children and brain development, DHA is, well, a no-brainer.
According to a study from the University of Kansas, the omega-3 fatty acid DHA has been associated with healthier birth weights and may help support the health of the reproductive system. (Ref. 3)
Omega-3 consumption by pregnant moms is important, because infants need DHA for healthy brain development, but they can only get it from their mother, either in utero of through breast milk after birth.
DHA is especially critical because it plays a big role in brain development during those all-important first two years of life.
According to a 2007 study from the University of California at Berkeley, DHA has been linked to both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autism (Ref. 4), two childhood conditions that have a serious impact on an entire family’s quality of life.
Cases of both ADHD and autism have risen considerably in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and now one in six children in the United States is diagnosed with some form of developmental disability. (Ref. 5)
While omega-3s have not been definitively linked to either, both have shown promise in studies. A small European study released in March of this year found that omega-3s could help ease the symptoms of ADHD slightly (Ref. 6), while the organization Autism Speaks funded a 2011 study that found omega-3s to help support repetitive behavior and hyperactivity in children with autism while supporting their socialization skills. (Ref. 7)
We at Xtend-Life have been proudly part of the GOED – which advocates the benefits of omega-3s tirelessly – and welcome the opportunity to highlight the latest graphic from the organization, designed to showcase the most important brain benefits of omega-3s in a completely consumer-friendly way.
For a closer look at the new graphic, click here.