It has been understood for some time that omega-3 fatty acids are associated with a range of health benefits, from reducing inflammation to improving heart health. But one of the most intriguing areas of research is the impact of omega-3s on the brain.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of polyunsaturated fat that plays a key role in human health. The most well-known source of omega-3s is fish oil, but they are also found in a number of plant-based foods including walnuts and flaxseeds.
Read on to learn about some of the ways this remarkable nutrient impacts your brain health.
Omega-3s Impact Cognitive Function and Development
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two of the three main types of omega-3 fatty acids, seem to play an important role in cognitive development in infants. Some studies have correlated a higher intake of fish or fish oils during pregnancy with improved intelligence and brain function during early childhood.
But it’s not just during pregnancy and the early years that these nutrients are important. In fact, they play a crucial role throughout all stages of life. As we age, maintaining a regular intake of omega-3s can help retain cognitive function, keeping our memory sharp and possibly delaying the onset of cognitive decline.
Omega-3s Can Boost Mood and Mental Health
Mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety are very common, and finding appropriate ways to treat them remains a major public health priority. An increasingly compelling body of evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may influence our mood and help to combat depression.
Studies have indicated that those who consume omega-3s regularly are less likely to suffer from depression, and that omega-3 supplements may help to improve the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Omega-3s May Help to Protect Against Neurodegenerative Diseases
Researchers recently evaluated the possible connection between omega-3 intake and neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. The results indicated moderate-high level evidence for dietary omega-3s, particularly DHA, in preventing dementia.
Unfortunately, there is currently no proven way to prevent these conditions entirely. Nor is there any cure for them. However, evidence shows that keeping active, eating well, and living a healthy lifestyle all contribute towards lowering your risk as you age. Taking dietary supplements, including omega-3s, can help you to maintain a good level of overall health and wellness.
Omega-3s Can Improve Your Sleep
Sleep is a critical component of brain health as well as overall wellbeing. Too little sleep can lead to a myriad of issues, from reduced memory to a lowered capacity for good decision-making. It may also be linked to a variety of health conditions including heart disease and diabetes.
Older studies indicated that low levels of omega-3s were correlated with sleep problems in both children and adults. More recently, research has indicated that omega-3 supplements may help to improve sleep and reduce sleep disturbances.
Regardless of your age, more and better sleep leads to a healthier and more functional brain.
Omega-3s May Support Brain Recovery After Injury
If you or a loved one have suffered from a traumatic brain injury, you may be wondering if there is anything you can do to speed up and enhance recovery. There is no quick cure for a brain injury, but there are absolutely steps you can take to help yourself along the road to recovery.
After an injury, the brain needs all the help it can get to repair itself. Research has shown that omega-3s can help to counter a reaction known as oxidative stress (when too many free radicals are produced and interact with the brain cells). This is particularly important after an injury, when the brain may not be able to naturally produce enough antioxidants to protect itself.
Omega-3s can also combat inflammation, improve communication between brain cells, and boost levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), one of the most important proteins found in the brain. All of this can help the brain to recover more effectively from injury.
Are Omega-3 Supplements Right for You?
Omega-3s are very safe for the majority of people and can play a tremendous role in maintaining overall good health, including brain health. You can harness these benefits by incorporating more omega-3-rich foods into your diet. These include fatty fish (such as salmon, mackerel, sardines), as well as walnuts, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.You can also use omega-3 supplements to increase your intake. This may be particularly beneficial to those who do not eat fish. If you are not sure whether these products are suitable for you, always consult your healthcare provider first.