Around 60% of our brain is made up of fat and every single brain cell is surrounded by fat. To function best our brains need healthy forms of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. We can’t make our own Essential Fatty Acids so we need to make sure we eat foods containing them and/or take supplements. The two most important omega-3 fatty acids for cardiovascular and mental health are DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid).
The speed of our thinking depends on the health and flexibility of myelin, the covering of the connections between neurons. A significant percentage of myelin is made up of EFAs, so if we don’t eat enough of them, communication between brain cells will slow.
Also, our thoughts travel through brain cells via electrical currents carried by neurotransmitters. The point at which the brain cell (the neuron) and neurotransmitters connect is the synapse. If the synapse isn’t packed with EFAs, it will not be able to release the neurotransmitter optimally and its messages become garbled.
“Omega-3 fatty acids support synaptic plasticity and seem to positively affect the expression of several molecules related to learning and memory that are found on synapses,” says Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, a UCLA professor of neurosurgery and physiological science.
Omega-3 fatty acids provide many benefits, including improving learning and memory and helping to fight against such mental disorders as depression and mood disorders, schizophrenia, and dementia, says Gómez-Pinilla.
Children who had increased amounts of omega-3 fatty acids performed better in school, in reading and in spelling and had fewer behavioral problems, he said.
In an Australian study, 396 children between the ages 6 and 12 who were given a drink with omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients (iron, zinc, folic acid and vitamins A, B6, B12 and C) showed higher scores on tests measuring verbal intelligence and learning and memory after six months and one year than a control group of students who did not receive the nutritional drink.
Researchers at Purdue University have found that children suffering from ADHD tend to have low levels of EFAs. The imbalance of fats in the diet can result in behavior problems, learning disorders, dyslexia, and symptoms of ADHD such as inattentiveness, impulsiveness and hyperactivity.
A study published in Lancet, analyzed the diets of 12,000 pregnant women and found that children of those who consumed the least omega-3 were 48% more likely to score in the lowest quartile on IQ tests.
A new report on omega-3 supplementation in the medical journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment – “Critical appraisal of omega-3 fatty acids in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder treatment” – concluded: We reviewed recent studies published between 2000 and 2015. The results of these studies overall, show evidence for a successful treatment of ADHD symptoms.
In 2014, the Association of Military Surgeons of the U.S. recommended that a rebalancing of the essential fatty acid composition of U.S. military diets, achieve tissue compositions of HUFAs (omega-3 highly unsaturated fatty acids) consistent with traditional Mediterranean diets, may help reduce military psychiatric distress and simultaneously increase force efficacy substantially.
Another study found that aging humans who consumed more omega-3s had increased gray matter brain volume and that most new tissue development was observed in the part of the brain associated with happiness.
Scientists suspect a role for omega-3 deterioration in the development of typical age-related cognitive decline such as that seen in Alzheimer’s and chronic disease. Ranges of 1,000-3,000 mg of EPA and 1,000-1,500 mg of DHA have been shown to yield significant improvements in symptoms of depression, aggression, and other mental disorders, as well as protection against early cognitive decline and even early Alzheimer’s disease.
Cold water salmon, mackerel, and herring are the best sources of omega 3 essential fats. Good plant sources include flaxseed, soy beans, chia, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and their oils.
As far as supplements, some nutritionists suggest Omega-3s from krill fish oil for its unique phospholipid complex as well as the health-protecting astaxanthin (a powerful antioxidant). Krill oil is a superior source of EPA and DHA because the polyunsaturated fats are packaged as phospholipids, which can be used immediately by your body.