A diet lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), nutrients commonly found in fish, may cause your brain to age faster and lose some of its memory and thinking abilities, according to a study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.1
In the study conducted by the researchers from UCLA and supported by the Framingham Heart Study’s National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institute on Aging, 1,575 people with an average age of 67 and free of dementia underwent MRI brain scans. They were also given tests that measured mental function, body mass and the omega-3 fatty acid levels in their red blood cells.
The researchers found that people whose DHA levels were among the bottom 25 percent of the participants had lower brain volume compared to people who had higher DHA levels. Similarly, participants with levels of all omega-3 fatty acids in the bottom 25 percent also scored lower on tests of visual memory and executive function, such as problem solving and multi-tasking and abstract thinking. The researchers concluded that people with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had lower brain volumes that were equivalent to about two years of structural brain aging.
Essential fatty acids (EFAs), mainly DHA and EPA, are required for maintenance of optimal health but they cannot be synthesized by the body and must be obtained from dietary sources. The human brain is nearly 60 percent fat. Approximately 8% of the brain’s weight is comprised of omega-3 fatty acids2
—the building block for an estimated 100 billion neurons.3
DHA and EPA play a host of vital roles in neuronal structure and function, protecting them from oxidative damage, inflammation, and the cumulative destruction inflicted by other chronic insults.4,5
Therefore, getting enough DHA and EPA through diet or supplements are crucial for your brain’s integrity and ability to perform.
Thanks for reading.
- Z. S. Tan, W. S. Harris, A. S. Beiser, R. Au, J. J. Himali, S. Debette, A. Pikula, C. DeCarli, P. A. Wolf, R. S. Vasan, S. J. Robins, S. Seshadri. Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging. Neurology, 2012; 78 (9): 658 DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e318249f6a9
- O’Brien JS, Sampson EL. Lipid composition of the normal human brain: gray matter, white matter, and myelin. J Lipid Res. 1965 Oct;6(4):537-44.
- Chang CY, Ke DS, Chen JY. Essential fatty acids and human brain. Acta Neurol Taiwan. 2009 Dec; 18(4):231-41.
- Robinson JG, Ijioma N, Harris W. Omega-3 fatty acids and cognitive function in women. Womens Health (Lond Engl). 2010 Jan;6(1):119-34.
- Eckert GP, Franke C, Noldner M, et al. Plant derived omega-3-fatty acids protect mitochondrial function in the brain. Pharmacol Res. 2010 Mar; 61(3):234-41.
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