There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acid in the diet, ALA, EPA and DHA. ALA, is found in vegetable sources of omega-3 fatty acids including flax seed, hemp seed and many nuts. As it pertains to brain function, this omega-3 has the weakest effect because it is more of a precursor to the body’s activated fatty acids EPA and DHA. Of the two remaining omega-3 fats, DHA is most important for the discussion of brain function and is what I will focus on in this article. This does not mean that DHA is all that is required for a healthy system. Remember, nature has placed EPA and DHA into the food and in our body for very specific reasons. As it pertains to brain function, EPA simply plays a lesser role and thus will not be discussed here.
DHA, is the most “unsaturated” of the omega-3 fatty acid and has a great affinity for the brain and nervous system where it plays numerous roles. Research has shown DHA to be important for brain development in infants and much of the research has been devoted to how DHA supplementation improves brain development in the young. More and more data is now coming out that is shedding light on DHA’s roles in brain maintenance in adults. Some very interesting research has found DHA to be important in keeping the memory functioning properly as well as general brain function.
Two studies, the Chicago study and the Rotterdam study, reported a 60% decrease in incidence of Alzheimer’s in people who enjoyed at least one fish meal a week. These observational studies confirm previous preliminary research that found extremely low levels of DHA in the memory center of the brain of Alzheimer’s subjects who had succumbed to the disease. Research at the University of Kentucky found that certain phospholipids, which contain high levels of DHA, were severely depleted in the most diseased parts of the brain of Alzheimer’s patients.
Recent studies have found DHA to play integral roles in numerous important brain pathways including:
1. Maintaining adequate levels of important phospholipids that allow brain cells to communicate with one another
2. The proper production of certain neurotransmitters such as dopamine
3. The regulation of enzymes necessary for proper brain and memory function
4. The regulation of inflammation that can speed the process of Alzheimer’s and other diseases of the brain
5. The production of certain neuroprotective proteins which prevent damage to fragile areas of the brain through antioxidant and anti-inflammatory pathways. These protective molecules prevent the inappropriate death of nerve cells.
Aside from the benefits to memory DHA plays important roles in regulating mood. DHA deficiency has been noted in cases of depression and aggression. A recent study found dogs who are more aggressive may be suffering from a deficiency in DHA. In addition, a study performed in jails in England found a 50% drop in murder rates in jails when DHA was supplemented to the diets of the prison population.
DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish oil, plays numerous roles in maintaining a healthy brain. I feel that fish oil is a vital supplement for people who want to protect their brains from degeneration and should be a first line prescription for those who have been diagnosed with any degenerative disease of the brain or mood disorder. There is evidence that krill oil, an oil extracted from a type of crustacean, may provide important phospholipids in addition to the omega-3 fatty acids. Although data is lacking that krill oil would be a sufficient replacement for fish oil, I feel that it would be a good supplement to add, along with fish oil, for people suffering with a brain disease.
Dosage recommendation: 1 Tablespoon daily of Carlson’s Finest Fish Oil (or 6-9 capsules daily if you prefer) could be used along with 2 capsules daily of krill oil.