Fact Checked By Erica Digap, BS, CN
September 10, 2021
What’s the best way to keep your brain healthy?
You might be familiar with some of the more well-known answers to this question, like eating fruits and vegetables with plenty of antioxidants, getting enough sleep, and constantly exercising your mind.
But as it turns out, one of the keys to better brain health could come as a bit of a surprise: healthy dietary fat.
Omega-3 fatty acids are some of the most crucial nutrients that your brain needs to perform at its peak.
Unfortunately, they’re found in few enough foods that you might not be meeting your recommended intake of this essential nutrient every day.
Let’s talk about omega-3 fatty acids and why you should definitely be increasing your intake of them if you want to maximize your brainpower and prevent issues down the road.
What Are Omega-3s?
Let’s start with an explanation of what omega-3s actually are and what they do.
Omega-3s are a group of healthy essential fatty acids. They’re a critical structural component of your cells and hormones - in other words, they’re necessary for virtually every bodily function that keeps you alive and well!
There are many different kinds of omega-3s out there, but the three that are the most relevant for health are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).
Each of these omega-3s is important for different functions:
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Altogether, these three major omega-3s play important roles in your development. They also help you maintain your health.
One of the most well-known benefits of eating enough omega-3s is that it can be supportive for your heart health. Omega-3s are helpful for managing your cholesterol and lowering your blood pressure, both of which can be dangerous if left unchecked (3).
But there’s even more at stake when you don’t get enough omega-3s: your brain health.
Why Does Your Brain Need Omega-3s?
Because omega-3 fatty acids play such a big role in the development and structure of your brain cells, it should come as no surprise that getting enough of it in your diet is important for your cognition.
DHA is especially important here since it’s the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid present in your brain. Because it helps make up the structure of your brain cells, or “neurons,” DHA is important for helping your brain cells communicate. This can then translate into better brainpower (4)!
There’s evidence that including plenty of DHA in your diet can increase your ability to learn and comprehend things, even as an adult. But on the flip side, a diet that is DHA-deficient can actually lead to problems with learning (5).
But another omega-3, ALA, could be equally beneficial for your brain because of its powerful anti-inflammatory effects in the body.
Inflammation is your body’s way of protecting itself from potential threats, but it can be problematic when it goes on unchecked for long periods of time.
Chronic inflammation can result from oxidative stress on your body and your brain, which can then lead to tissue damage. Scientists believe that this inflammatory response could be linked to cognitive decline, especially as you advance in age (6).
So the combination of both EPA and DHA can come with a whole host of brain-supporting benefits.
For example, studies have found that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation can be beneficial for people suffering from depression. They’ve also had positive results supplementing omega-3s in patients with other cognitive impairments like ADHD and dyslexia (7, 8).
It’s especially critical to get enough omega-3s as you grow older, since that’s when your brain starts to experience gradual decreases in cognitive functioning like memory and focus. Getting enough omega-3s could help protect your brain from age-related cognitive issues like impaired memory and “brain fog.” (9).
There’s even evidence that getting enough of these omega-3 fatty acids can be protective against neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s and dementia (10)!
Increasing Your Omega-3 Intake For Your Brain Health
Remember, there are three main kinds of omega-3 fatty acids you can get from your diet: DHA, EPA, and ALA.
ALA is found primarily in plant-based foods like flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts. However, your body still needs to convert ALA into EPA, then DHA, in order to be used. This process isn’t very efficient - in fact, scientists believe the successful conversion of EPA into usable forms is less than 15% (11).
So unless you’re eating a very large amount of these ALA-rich foods, you might need to find a different source of omega-3s, preferably one rich in EPA and DHA.
Your body does make a certain amount of DHA and EPA on its own, but the best way to increase its levels in your body is to increase your intake of omega-3-rich foods.
The best source for these two omega-3 fatty acids is fatty, cold-water fish. For example, mackerel, tuna, and salmon are all good sources of DHA and EPA. Unfortunately, many people don’t eat fish regularly enough to reap the benefits.
Luckily, you can also get your omega-3s in supplement form. Fish oil pills like Clinical Effects’ Omega Daily are a popular way to increase your EPA and DHA intake. This is especially useful for people who don’t eat enough fish or find it hard to get an adequate omega-3 intake elsewhere (12).
Other omega-3 supplements include cod liver pills and microalgae oil supplements.
Eating a high-quality, nutrient-dense diet is one of the best ways you can keep your brain firing on all cylinders. Improve your mental performance and protect it from the effects of aging by increasing your intake of foods and supplements with omega-3 fatty acids.
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