Omega-3’s and Brain Health

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Photo from Fanatic Cook's Article on Omega-3's in the Vegan Diet
Photo from Fanatic Cook's Article on Omega-3's in the Vegan Diet
Photo from Fanatic Cook’s Article on Omega-3’s in the Vegan Diet

A lot of my nutritional research has been focused on omega-3 fatty acids. They are essential nutrients that modern diets often do not include in adequate amounts. As a psychology major in college I researched omega-3s and nutritional therapy for the treatment of depression; I am fascinated by the relationship between diet and mental health. Many people take fish oil supplements to obtain marine based omega-3s, but there are many dietary considerations for supplementation to be effective. Here is an introduction to omega-3 fatty acids, which I will be posting more information about in the future.

OMEGA-3’s

Omega-3’s are poly-unsaturated fatty acids that are essential nutrients for humans (we cannot produce them internally). The three main types of omega-3s required by the body are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), Eicosapentaenoic Acid (EPA), and Docasahexaenoic Acid (DHA).

ALA is a short chain fatty acid found in plant foods like canola oil, flaxseed oil, and walnut oil, EHA and DHA are long chain fatty acids found in marine food sources like fish, seafood, and algae.  [Fish don’t actually contain omega-3 fatty acids, but rather obtain it from dietary intake of algae].

ALA can be converted to EHA and DHA endogenously, but at a very low rate; thus it is important to obtain both EHA and DHA from dietary sources. I personally obtain omega-3’s from eating seafood, but also taking algae-oil supplements.

Long chain, poly-unsaturated fatty acids:

– Are essential components of neuronal membranes
– Suppress pro-inflammatory molecules
– May promote neuroplasticity (“re-wiring” and adaptation of the brain)
– Are found in fish, seafood, and algae.
– Are the most abundant fatty acids in the brain
– Are required for optimal neurotransmitter signalling
– Compete with omega-6 fatty acids, so it is important to keep a low omega-6:omega-3 ratio in one’s diet.

Other important nutrients for brain health:

– Zinc
– Selenium
– Folic Acid
– Antioxidants

These nutrients assist with processes involving omega-3 fatty acids and help reduce inflammation  in the brain.

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