Thursday, January 31, 2008

Brain Health: Omega-3 Fatty Acids ("Fish Oil")

Most people who have been researching how to help a child’s brain develop healthily, have read a lot about essential fatty acids (EFAs), specifically, Omega-3 fatty acids. They are essential to the proper development and functioning of our nervous system, including brain and vision, as well as the cardiovascular system.

They are called essential fatty acids because it is essential that we consume them. Our bodies cannot synthesize them. We get essential fatty acids naturally from various food sources such as cold water oily fish (such as wild salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines), algae, krill, flaxseed, Salvia (Salba, Chia), kiwi, walnuts, some eggs and some poultry. But there are different types of these essential fatty acids. Some have more complex chains, some less complex chains. Different foods have different amounts of different types.

When it was determined that breast milk is naturally high in EFAs, and that there was a statistical difference in IQ in babies fed with and without EFAs, Omega-3 fatty acids were added to infant formula.

Pregnant mothers were advised to eat plenty of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids, while at the same time, they were warned that these fish may be high in mercury. It was decided that the benefit of fish oil outweighed the risk from mercury, but many concerned mothers remained cautious. The obvious solution to this dilemma, for people who could afford to do so, was to buy fish oil supplements that have been purified so they are free of mercury.*

Even though we may consume some food with omega-3 fatty acids, we often do not eat them sufficient quantities. The best source of these essential fats are from fish oil derived from cold water ocean fish such as salmon. They are high in two very important essential components, DHA and EPA.

EPA and DHA are long-chained fatty acids that are most abundant in fish oil from specific cold-water ocean fish, and from some types of algae. Most of the scientific research has been done on fish oil, not oil from algae. However, in our world with its burgeoning population and diminishing fish supply, alternative sources (such as from algae) will become increasingly important. Of course, it is already important to those individuals who are vegetarian or vegan.

DHA and EPA help grow, and regrow, brain matter. But keep in mind, there are other types of essential fats, such as the Omega 6 fatty acid, Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA).

It turns out that in some disease processes, some people may require even more Omega-3 fatty acids than other people. Brains of men who have died with schizophrenia were found to be strangely deficient in omega-3 fatty acids.[1] The cause is not known. What we do know is that in nations consuming the highest levels of saturated fat, such as in the United States, people with schizophrenia had the worst outcomes. People with schizophrenia in nations consuming the highest levels of fats from vegetable and fish (especially those rich in omega-3 fatty acids) had, in general, the best outcomes.

Fish oil has also been found to help children with attention problems, depression, aggression, and even bipolar mood swings [2],[3]. Omega-3 fatty acids have been suggested for people with inflammatory processes, including heart disease. One pharmaceutical company has even patented a prescription Omega-3 fatty acids supplement (Lovaza) to lower cardiovascular risk.

Omega-3s may cut diabetes risk in children: Eating foods such as fish, walnuts and soybeans may prevent the disease.

Fish oil might even help promote weight loss through various metabolic mechanisms such decreasing body fat and body fat accumulation on a cellular level as well as improving lipid (fat) metabolism.[4]

Some children exhibit brief intermittent episodes of psychosis (hallucinations, paranoia) and a significant number of them (a whopping 28%) develop escalating, sustained symptoms so severe that within a year they get diagnosed with Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective.

It starts sounding like those TV commercials--"But wait! That's not all!" Reported in an Australian newspaper - The Herald Sun Fish oil could keep schizophrenia at bay is that when these children are treated with FISH OIL (1.5 Grams), a year later very few of them (only about 3%) had such severe symptoms that they would qualify for such a dire diagnosis. This was better results than was seen for powerful antipsychotic medications, and without the side-effects!

Later, we'll talk more about EPA, DHA, dosages (Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil): DHA, EPA, and How Much is Enough?) and specific brands ("Fish Oil": $$ and Favorite Brands of Omega-3 Supplements).

* Always consult with a doctor before making dietary changes including using food supplements.


[1] Omega-3 levels in orbitofrontal cortex linked to schizophrenia (Schizophr Res 2007; 91: 37–50)
[2] Fish oil showing promise in kids' brain disorders Chicago Tribune June 2007
[4] Docosahexaenoic acid inhibits adipocyte differentiation and induces apoptosis in 3T3-L1 preadipocytes. Journal of Nutrition 2006 Dec; 136(12):2965-9
Dietary Fish Oil Upregulates Intestinal Lipid Metabolism and Reduces Body Weight Gain in C57BL/6 Mice Journal of Nutrition 2007 Dec; 137(12):2629-34

Property of:    It's Not Mental 
Last Updated: 09 November 2011


Herb said...

One source of Omega 3, that might merit noting, is eggs. Eggs, of courwse, are acomplete source of all nutrients. It is suggested that they be boiled or poached and not fried

Jeanie said...

Thank you. I added eggs to the list.