by Jordan Douglas, HHC
The average adult human brain weighs about 3 pounds, comprising a small percentage of our total weight, yet the brain uses about 20-25% of our daily energy. That’s quite a bit! Taking care of our brains is of vital importance as we age, and it’s never too early to start really caring for this beautiful organ. Our brains are comprised of roughly 60% fat; therefore, fat is absolutely essential to brain health. Omega-3 fatty acids are of particular importance, as they provide structure and energy and form eicosanoids (signaling molecules that play important roles in the immune, endocrine and cardiovascular systems).
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
So, what are omega-3s? These are polyunsaturated fatty acids (aka good fats) that you’ll recognize by their abbreviations – e.g. EPA, DHA, ALA, etc. You may also know these as ‘essential fatty acids’ as our bodies are unable to synthesize them and thus we must obtain them from dietary sources.
Our cell membranes are made up of lipids, so we need good fats not only to survive, but to thrive. DHA in particular is a key component of our neuron membranes, therefore consuming adequate DHA is critical for supporting brain health. DHA promotes glucose uptake and mitochondrial function, thereby reducing oxidative stress and powering the brain to work efficiently. DHA is also thought to enhance the fluidity of synaptic membranes and promote synaptic plasticity, which have been associated with increased learning and memory. It may also increase a gene called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which plays a pivotal role in the growth and survival of our neurons.
A deficiency in omega-3s has been associated with various psychiatric, learning and mood disorders as well as poor cognitive health. Many observational studies have shown that high dietary intake of omega-3s is associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline, particularly as we age. So, it’s important to include high quality omega-3s as part of a balanced diet!
Dietary Sources of Omega-3s
ALA is found in plant sources and may be converted into EPA, then to DHA; however, this conversion is relatively inefficient. Consuming all of the omega-3s is important, but if you’re looking to boost your EPA and DHA levels you might consider increasing your intake of foods rich in those particular omega-3s or taking a high-quality supplement.
Plant sources of ALA include flax, chia and walnuts. EPA and DHA are synthesized by microalgae, so you can obtain them through algae or fish that eat the algae via consuming phytoplankton. Cold-water fatty fish are the richest sources of omega-3s; these include sardines, salmon, tuna, mackerel and herring.
When considering an omega-3 supplement, be sure to select a high-quality product. You want to make sure that the raw materials are obtained ethically and sustainably and that the company tests for quality, purity and potency. There are many wonderful fish oil products on the market. Algae supplements used to be hard to come by, but several great options now exist for those who prefer to opt for plant sources. Wiley’s Finest and Nordic Naturals are two brands that I trust and recommend to clients. As always, be sure to check with your health care provider before beginning any new supplement.
Curious to try an omega-3 supplement? Stop by the Ellwood’s Nourish department and talk with a Nourish steward about your options. Want to learn more about incorporating omega-3s into your diet? Email email@example.com to set up a free 30-minute virtual appointment.