Brain health and Omega 3 fatty acids
In today's attention-strapped, media-saturated culture, we all face challenges with focus at times. It can be hard to feel balanced.
One way to support your brain is to give it healthy fats. The human brain is one of the fattiest organs in the human body. An estimated 60% of it is fat! Fat is needed to form the lining of your brain cells (in fact, all cell membranes are made of lipids and proteins). Omega-3 fats do a lot of things, but one of the most important is building cell membranes throughout the body and the brain.
Evidence shows Omega 3s can also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Researchers believe Omega 3s play a role in promoting healthier brain cells and reducing deterioration.
Getting the right fats can be important for learning, memory, and concentration. This is especially important for those who are at higher risk for dementia and the diseases and disorders related to abnormal changes in the brain.
What are the Omega 3s?
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats found in foods essential for health. There are 3 different types of Omega-3 fatty acids that the body uses
The three main types of Omega 3 fatty acids are:
- Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and
- Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
- Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
PUFAS: Omega 3 vs. Omega 6
Today’s food environment makes it rare to become deficient in essential fatty acids, but there is a question of balance among the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to share anti-inflammatory, antiarrhythmic, and anti-thrombotic properties. They contribute to regular blood flow and circulation. Meanwhile, omega-6 fatty acids are considered proinflammatory and prothrombotic -- meaning they increase the chances of inflammation and blood clotting.
The optimal range of omega-6 to omega-3 has not been defined, but is thought to historically be around 1:1. The standard American diet gives us a ratio of anywhere from 10:1 to 20:1, and sometimes is estimated to be even higher (in omega-6) than that.
Omega-6 fats are very abundant in the Standard American Diet, as these are often found in oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed, soy, peanut oils), and particularly the unhealthy vegetable oils so often used in processed foods.
High intakes of omega-6 fatty acids may throw off the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the body, reducing it by as much as 40% to 50%. At least one study showed that dietary Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids compete to compose tissue and produce tissue responses.
Decreasing processed food in particular can decrease Omega 6 and improve this ratio. You can further address the ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 by reducing intake of Omega 6 fats and by eating and/or supplementing Omega 3.
Where to find Omega 3s in foods
- Certain green vegetables (Brussels sprouts, spinach, kale) contain ALAs, some of which the body can convert to EPA and DHA.
- Fresh, coldwater fish -- the oily or fatty fish, such as mackerel and salmon, contain EPA and DHA.
- Walnuts (the only nut known to have high levels of Omega 3s).
- Seeds (flaxseeds, chia, hemp, and pumpkin seeds).
Fish oil is not the only source of Omega 3s
We often hear the conceptions that you can only get Omega3’s from eating fish or fish oil. However, you can get Omega 3s from plants, too. For those who are vegan or plant based (or who simply don’t love the taste of fish oil burps), you have options.
The main concern is that most plant sources contain ALA, which converts to EPA and DHA in small doses. So yes, the body converts ALA into EPA or DHA, but only part of it is converted. The amount of Omega 6 (if there is too much Omega 6 derived from a diet high in processed foods, for example) may hinder our body’s natural ability to convert ALA.
So, as usual with nutrition, the story goes much deeper and has many more layers of complexity than “fat is good” or “fat is bad.” How Omega 3s interact with our body’s own chemistry depends on many factors. We know you need some fat, and some specific kinds of fat to survive and thrive… and that your cellular health--including your brain cells--requires more Omega 3s than most of us are likely getting in our diets now.
Almeda’s Omega 3s
Almeda uses flax oil for Omega 3s and contains an essential fatty acids blend. The new wellness trend based on the latest research suggests focusing on creating more whole nutrition in the body. Nutrients work interactively within biochemical networks and are interdependent on other nutrients. So we need to think about how specific supplements work holistically rather than in isolation.
For example, Encarna’s Essential Fatty Acid Blend includes:
- Flax Oil (omega 3 fatty acids)
- Borage oil (source of gamma linolenic, linoleic, oleic, stearic, and palitimic oils)
- Evening primrose (GLA)
- Sunflower Lecithin (providing phosphatides)
- Linolenic Acid (omega fatty acids)
At Almeda, we recommend you don’t take an individual vitamin, instead, take Omega 3s how you would naturally get them -- in your food. It’s a wonderful option to have. It’s important to have the right fats in your body, to make the body’s processes work more effectively.