Omega-3 fatty acids are exceedingly important in maintaining mental health and power. Plant based foods are a rich source of certain fatty acids. There are other important types of fatty acid, of which animal products constitute the main source. Fortunately vegan/vegetarian alternatives are available.
The brain is without doubt the human body’s most important organ. The average brain roughly weighs 1.5 kilos and has about 100 billion neurons that transmit information throughout the body.
There’s no question that the brain runs the whole show. It controls just about everything you do. In other words, the brain is the CEO, the top dog, the kingpin of your body.
But with all due respect, the brain is a really really fat boss. Fat makes up most of the human brain. About 60% to be more precise. Therefore it should come as no surprise that omega-3 is of vital importance for our precious centre of command.
This is your brain on omega-3
Every single cell in your body needs omega-3 fatty acids. They are necessary for rebuilding and producing new cells. Recent studies show that omega-3 fatty acids are among the most essential molecules determining the brain’s integrity and ability to function.
Indeed, omega-3 fatty acids are of pivotal importance when it comes to helping your brain achieve high performance. That is to say, fatty acids serve the brain by reducing inflammation, building cell membranes and promoting new brain cell formation. This is especially true for the regions of the brain linked to memory.
Omega-3 fatty acids don’t just support the development of the brain. They also help regulate how it functions under stress. But in order to understand how omega-3 affects our brain, we must first grasp what omega-3 actually is.
What the Fat is ALA, EPA & DHA?
Metabolically, our bodies are incapable of producing essential fatty acids. Consequently we need to get them from the food we consume. There are 11 types of omega-3 fatty acids. But the three most important are ALA, EPA and DHA.
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is the most common of all omega-3 fatty acids. Plant sources such as seeds and nuts are rich in ALA. ALA has powerful antioxidant properties. Yet the primary role of ALA basically is the synthesis of EPA and DHA. Together, they make up the holy trinity of omega-3.
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are the other two important omega-3 fatty acids. Although the body can produce these two fatty acids by converting ALA, the amount is minimal and certainly not adequate. Again, we have to obtain them from the food we eat.
Omega-3 is excellent food for thought
So how exactly is omega-3 good for your brain? Let’s get down to the facts and figures and check out some of the benefits.
- Omega-3 helps restrict inflammation in the brain and nervous system. This in turn improves your mood. Furthermore, taking sufficient amounts of EPA can significantly diminish depression symptoms.
- Your brain is where the Omega-3 fatty acid DHA is present in great quantity. A very high percentage of your brain’s thinking capacity is composed of DHA fatty acids. Therefore this fatty acid is especially important for maintaining nerve cell structure and performance.
- Omega-3 can improve your cognitive abilities and learning capacity. It can also help quicken your reaction significantly.
- Getting enough omega-3 during pregnancy and early life is crucial for a child’s development. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that babies of mothers who supplemented their diet with DHA during pregnancy, demonstrated better problem-solving abilities and recognition memory than those born to mothers who took placebos.
- A decline in DHA levels were observed in Alzheimer’s patients in areas of the brain associated with cognition and memory. It is therefore suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may provide a rationale for improving effectiveness in Alzheimer’s Disease prevention.
- Omega-3 fatty acids not only provide energy for your brain, but also help boost neurotransmitter production. This increases the flow of information throughout your brain and body.
- Omega-3 supplements can be effective in reducing symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. A study shows that omega-3 intake improved attention and vigilance.
Everything cerebral keeps getting better
The benefits of omega-3 for our body seem to go on endlessly. And the brain is no exception. Fatty acids are of paramount importance to the brain throughout all stages of life.
Omega-3 fatty acids are fundamental constituents for healthy cell membranes. These cell membranes give major support for brain connectivity. In addition, fatty acids bolster blood flow which is crucial for ideal brain function, memory retention and emotional well-being.
The importance of getting the right amount of omega-3 fatty acids cannot be stressed enough. After all, the human body has a very limited capacity to produce EPA and DHA. Therefore it is very important to include omega-3 in our diets.
DHA and EPA are typically found in animal products. Particularly in marine foods such as fish and shellfish. It goes without saying that this poses a serious handicap for vegetarians and vegans.
Vegan omega-3 comes to the rescue
As previously mentioned, plant products such as nuts and seeds are an excellent source of ALA. But they cannot fully provide us with the DHA and EPA we need. Our bodies are capable of converting ALA to DHA and EPA. But only in the amount of around 5%. So what’s a vegan/vegetarian to do?
Most people incorrectly think that they need to eat fish in order to get DHA and EPA. Nothing could be further from the truth. The best source for these two fatty acids is marine algae. That’s right, algae; otherwise known as seaweed.
The DHA and EPA fatty acids found in fish are originally synthesized by algae, not by the fish themselves. In other words, fish cannot produce EPA and DHA on their own. Sea plants such as algae can. Fish contain these omega-3 fatty acids through their food.
Algae are vegan and unbelievably rich in omega-3 fatty acids. By meeting our fatty acid need from algae, we’re actually going straight to the source. This is why the best vegan omega-3 supplements are algae-based.
Algal oil (oil extracted from algae) provides around 400-500 milligrams of DHA and EPA. This equates to 44-167% of the recommended daily intake.
Omega-3 and your brain: a match made in heaven
Aron Barbey is an associate professor and director of the Center for Brain Plasticity at the University of Illinois. A research he conducted shows that high levels of omega-3 fatty acids enhance cognitive function and increase volume in certain brain structures.
Omega-3 supplements are gaining popularity all over the world. One of the main reasons behind this phenomenon is the understanding that omega-3 fatty acids are involved in multiple brain processes. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for healthy brain function.
Today there is no doubt that we need omega-3 fatty acids to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. But getting an adequate amount of omega-3 only from your food can be quite difficult in modern urban life. In fact among 80% of our global population, omega-3 consumption is unsatisfactory to say the least.
Should you take omega-3 supplements?
Omega-3 supplements have proven to be acceptable omega-3 alternatives in providing specific nutritional needs. Furthermore, omega-3 supplements produced from algae can provide a viable alternative for vegetarians and vegans alike.
Omega-3 supplements help to increase the essential fatty acid levels in your body, while supporting healthy brain, heart, eye and immune functions at the same time. Supplements are highly efficient in improving the health of people suffering from omega-3 deficiency.
An ever increasing number of people are incorporating omega-3 supplements into their daily diets to improve their brain health. And since omega-3 is your brain’s basic building block, you should never let it stay hungry.
Feed your mind, and the rest will follow…