Once while on vacation in Alaska, I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Fish Control My Brain.” I smiled when I realized the saying had an element of truth to it, beyond the obsession with fishing. For years, I have been writing about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish oil supplements.
Fish oils, also known as marine oils, are fats found in fish, particularly cold water fish, and other marine life such as phytoplankton and krill. These oils are rich sources of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA), also called omega-3 fatty acids.
It has been scientifically demonstrated that your brain needs specific types of essential omega-3 fatty acids to function optimally. These fats are called essential for a reason—our bodies need them, and the only way to get them is through foods or supplements.
Personally, I take omega-3 fatty acids every day and recommend ALL of my patients do the same. When you look at the mountain of scientific evidence, it is easy to understand why.
For example, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, having low levels of omega-3 fatty acids is one of the leading preventable causes of death and has been associated with:
- Heart disease
- Suicidal behavior
The two most studied omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). While both EPA and DHA are components of cellular membranes throughout the body, they each have specific functions in our health. EPA plays a critical role in supporting the healthy regulation of cellular inflammation while DHA is the most abundant omega-3 found in the brain and is important in maintaining nerve cell structure and function.
DHA is a critical component of cell membranes, especially those in the brain and retina. It is also vital for normal brain development for the fetus and infant and for the maintenance of normal brain function throughout life. Furthermore, DHA appears to be a major factor in how fluid or flexible brain cells membranes are. This could play a major role in the maintenance of how we think and feel.
EPA is well known for reducing cellular inflammation, especially neuro-inflammation. This may explain why there are many links to improvement in depression, ADHD, and brain trauma due to high levels of EPA. It has also been shown to help with childhood behavior and academic performance, as well as focus, attention and reducing aggression.
Regardless of their differences, it is important to have a healthy balance with both EPA and DHA – typically 60 percent EPA to 40 percent DHA – as they are both essential to the body.
Most people get far too little omega-3 fatty acids in their diet. In fact, research consistently indicates that most Americans have just slightly over half the EPA and DHA in their tissues that they likely require for optimum brain and body health. This is partly due to high dietary intakes of less healthy fats and partly to inadequate intakes of EPA and DHA. That’s where dietary supplementation can be extremely helpful to your health.
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