Omega-3 for brain health

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Omega-3 fatty acids contain both eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). In the body they form important structural components of cell membranes, provide a source of energy and have beneficial anti‐inflammatory effects.

Omega-3s are very important to brain health and development, and the grey matter within the brain contains high levels of DHA in particular.1 In fact 50‐60% of the total dry weight of the adult human brain is lipid, and approximately one‐third of these lipids are omega-3 fatty acids, mostly DHA. Although the role of DHA in brain function is not clearly understood, it’s thought that healthy fatty acid levels in the brain influence membrane fluidity and nerve impulses. This is turn helps to maintain healthy brain function and supports the nervous system.

Omega-3s are important for brain health throughout life but are especially important during pregnancy, when the developing baby obtains all the nutrition it needs directly from the mother. Adequate omega-3 levels at this stage are critical for healthy brain development. During the last trimester, the baby requires as much as 50‐70 mg of DHA per day for proper nervous system growth. Infants continue to accrue DHA into the tissues of the central nervous system until 18 months of age.2 Supplementing with DHA during pregnancy and breastfeeding is also beneficial for the mother, as it supports general health and wellbeing, as well as normal moods.

In children, DHA from omega‐3 helps support the development of the brain, eyes and nerves. It may help verbal learning and memory, and be beneficial for attention. It’s also thought to be valuable for behaviour and may help relieve irritability.

With age, DHA levels in the brain may decrease and many studies have shown that supplementing with omega-3 helps maintain cognitive function and memory in the aging brain.

Omega-3 supplementation may also help with mental wellbeing. Studies show that it may be beneficial during times of stress and helps to relieve irritability, mild anxiety, fatigue and mood swings.

Published November 28, 2014
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