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Fatty Acids contribute to Brain Health

Fatty Acids contribute to Brain Health

How Omega-3 helps brain and mental health



The human brain is made up of nearly 60% fat, so it is no surprise that omega-3s are intimately linked to the health of this vital organ.


Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the forms of omega-3 fats particularly important for maintenance of normal brain function in adults. These fats build cell membranes and promote new brain cell formation.


Normal brain aging is characterized by many factors, including the reduction in brain volume and weight, and changes in membrane fat content. The aging brain is more susceptible to developing neurodegenerative diseases.


Omega-3 fats are recommended to help maintain brain health.

The brain contains more than 100 billion cells and omega-3 fatty acids are the building blocks of these cells. These fats bind to cell membranes increasing fluidity, which is important for the functioning of each brain cell. The benefit of membrane fluidity is that it helps the brain change and adapt to new information.


Studies have revealed a link between an imbalance in omega-3s from diet and impaired brain performance and cognitive diseases.


Additionally, the omega-3s in cell membranes aid the function of neurotransmitter receptors, which helps facilitate how information is communicated in the brain. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that communicate information throughout the brain and body.


Preliminary studies have shown that omega-3s may increase BDNF, the brain’s growth hormone. In turn, this increases the production of brain messengers while decreasing their destruction.




The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are critical for normal brain function and development throughout all stages of life.


These fatty acids are also vital for the maintenance of normal brain function throughout life. They are abundant in the cell membranes of brain cells, preserving cell membrane health and facilitating communication between brain cells.


In older adults, lower levels of DHA in the blood have been associated with smaller brain size, a sign of accelerated brain aging.


Fish oil supplements, especially those that contain higher amounts of EPA, may improve depressive symptoms in people with depression. They appear to have the greatest effects on those who are already taking antidepressant medications.


Clearly, it is important to make sure you get enough omega-3 fatty acids to avoid some of these detrimental effects on brain function and development.



Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids have relevant biochemistry and physiological functions in human metabolism and health.


In this regard, DHA is a fundamental nutrient for children’s growth and development. DHA has a key role in the formation and function of the central nervous system and the retina of humans.


This fatty acid is almost exclusively present, in a significant amount, in diverse seafood (fish, shellfish, micro- and macroalgae). In fact, the intake of aquatic foods during the mid-Upper Paleolithic marked a significant turning point in human evolution.


In the human diet, EPA and DHA are almost exclusively found in fatty fish and fish oil. Because most people do not consume the recommended amounts of fish, many people likely fall short of getting enough EPA and DHA in their diets.


Therefore, fish oil supplementation may be a good option, especially for those who don’t eat much fish but are still looking to gain some of the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.


Deficiencies and imbalances of fatty acids are positively correlated with impairments in the cognitive and behavioral performance of the child.


Moreover, increased EPA levels were associated with decreased anxiety/shyness. Accordingly, the supplementation with EPA was associated with improvements in literacy and behavior of children with ADHD.


In conclusion, fatty acids have a key role in children’s growth and development, with special implications in the central nervous system, showing improvements in different parameters of the cognitive function.


  • visual development, resulting in a better visual acuity;
  • cardiovascular health, improving blood pressure;
  • improving the immune system and protecting the child against allergies in early childhood





Research shows a link between high blood levels of omega-3s and better brain function in children


New research published in the July edition of the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, has established a strong correlation between blood levels of omega-3s, especially docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and better brain function in children two to six years old.


The objective of this cross-sectional study was to investigate the relationship between whole-blood fatty acids (FAs) and executive function in 307 children (two to six years old) from Northern Ghana. The aim of researchers was to examine the extent to which higher levels of EPA and/or DHA were associated with better cognitive performance. Dried blood spot samples were collected and analyzed for FA content.


The children underwent a battery of age-appropriate cognitive function tests. Specifically, the dimensional change card sort (DCCS) task was used to assess executive function.


The DCCS asks that the child sort a series of bivalent cards based on one of two instructed dimensions (i.e., either color or shape). Following sorting an initial series of eight cards based upon color, the child is instructed to switch the categorization dimension and sort another series of eight cards based upon shape. This dimensional change in sorting behavior provides an index of executive function as the child must suppress their previously learned set of rules (i.e., sorting by color) and attentional inertia towards those attributes in order to flexibly adjust their behavioral actions and attention to sort the cards by a new set of rules (i.e., sorting by shape).


The average Omega-3 Index (red blood cell EPA + DHA level) in this group was 4.6%, with a range of 2.3% to 11.7%. Significant differences in mean % total whole-blood fatty acids were observed between children who could not follow directions on the DCCS test (50% of the sample) and those who could (50% of the sample). Children with the highest levels of total omega-3s and DHA were three and four times, respectively, more likely to pass at least one condition of the DCCS test of executive function than those with the lowest levels.


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This study has several strengths

First and foremost, it utilized an objective biomarker to assess dietary fatty acid intake (i.e., the Omega-3 Index), as opposed to other conventional and less precise methods such as food frequency questionnaires or diet history techniques. Food frequency questionnaires are not highly accurate at estimating circulating blood levels of fatty acids.


The authors concluded that these findings provided an "impetus for further studies into possible interventions to improve essential fatty acid status of children in developing countries." One of the study's investigators, Dr. Bill Harris, founder of OmegaQuant, and co-inventor of the Omega-3 Index test, said the results are very encouraging for these children, who are probably the most disadvantaged when it comes to omega-3 consumption.


"Children in developing countries like Ghana do not have the access to omega-3-rich sources that children from other parts of the world do. This has several ramifications, particularly in the area of brain development and cognitive function. We were happy to see the positive correlation between omega-3 levels and better brain function, especially since an omega-3 deficiency is so easy to correct. All it requires is consuming more of the right omega-3s, especially DHA which in this case was the standout fatty acid here."



Taking everything into account

Although fish oil is typically praised for its benefits for heart health, it also has incredible effects on brain and mental health that are worthy of some attention. EPA and DHA are omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil that are vital for normal brain function and development. People with depression or a mild decline in brain function should consider taking omega-3s from fish oil, as they may see improvements in their symptoms and brain function.









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Other Sources for the Story: Posted in Child Health News | Medical Science News | Medical Research News  ‘Why the Brain Needs Omega-3 Fatty Acids’ Mia Syn, MS, RD  Research shows a link between high blood levels of omega-3s and better brain function in children.
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