Most people know that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are good for their circulatory health. But many are unaware that these fatty acids are crucial for brain health. When it comes to the benefits of omega-3 supplementation with fish oil, it supports both a healthy heart and healthy mind.
With strong evidence supporting omega-3s positive effects on the brain, heart and whole body, taking fish oil should be an essential part of your daily supplement regimen. This is especially true if you’re experiencing brain fog or memory struggles. A recent study revealed that, when combined, omega-3 fatty acids, aerobic exercise, and cognitive stimulation can prevent mild cognitive impairment and the decline of gray matter in the brain.
Whether you’re still in the research phase, or if you currently take supplements and want to find out if you’ve selected the right kind, here are some quick facts you need to know about fish oil:
Omega-3 Fatty Acid Facts
The fish oils come from cold water fish and are rich sources of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA. These are essential for human health, functioning in all our cells and way more active than the shorter-chain omega-3s that come from plants. They are practically vitamins since the body can’t make them from scratch but must get them from food.
It has been scientifically demonstrated that your brain needs these essential omega-3 fatty acids to function optimally. Unfortunately, most Americans are deficient in omega-3s, and studies indicate that as many as 90% of adults have suboptimal levels of EPA and DHA.
What are EPA and DHA?
EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are both critical to building the cell membranes that all our cells use to survive and carry out their functions. EPA and DHA are essential for our brain cells to make the trillions of connections that enable the brain to work at all, and for peak cognitive, mood, and behavioral performance.
The only practical way to ensure we get the recommended proper amounts of EPA and DHA we need is through foods or supplements. DHA makes up a large portion of the brain. EPA works with DHA to enable healthy blood flow to the brain, which supports memory, attention, mood and overall mental functioning. EPA and DHA work along with other fatty acids coming from our foods, to optimize the cell membrane functions of all the brain’s nerve cells AND the equal numbers of cells that provide crucial support for their information processing functions.
Deficiencies in these vital omega-3 fatty acids are associated with age-related cognitive decline, psychological disturbances, mood challenges, behavioral issues, and a broad array of other nervous system problems, as well as with issues with the circulation, joints, and other tissues and organs.
Benefits of Omega-3 EPA and DHA
The huge and rapidly-growing body of clinical research on EPA and DHA in fish oils indicates they are vital to the brain’s blood flow, its overall information processing capabilities, and memory. This also includes other cognitive functions such as mood, the brain’s “executive functioning” to make good decisions, and a calm and controlled demeanor.
Omega-3 EPA and DHA are vital nutritional support for the healthy early development, maturation, and optimal functioning of the brain, heart and circulation, and all the body’s other organs. They are also vital to the survival and optimal functioning of mind and body, across our entire lifespan.
Which Fish Oil Supplement is Best?
When searching for a high-quality fish oil supplement, keep these shopping tips in mind:
- Because toxins such as mercury, other heavy metals, solvents dioxins, PCBs, furans and in all more than 250 environmental pollutants can become concentrated in fish, it’s extremely important to choose a fish oil product that is highly purified and analyzed in the laboratory to verify that it is clean.
- Fish oil spoils easily. Look for a product that has added vitamin E, vitamin C, rosemary, or other safe and effective stabilizers. Avoid suppliers that are not reputable, because more and more fish oils are being diluted with oils that do not have omega-3 activity.
- Choose a product that has high amounts of EPA and DHA. The cheap fish oils can say “1000 mg” on the label but only provide 300 mg of EPA plus DHA, which for most people is not an adequate daily dose.
- Learn your Omega-3 Index, which is the percentage of EPA plus DHA in your body’s cell membranes. It is the only way for you to know if you’re getting enough EPA and DHA. It can cost as little as $55 online. You want to aim for an Index of between 8 and 12 percent
Focus your diet on foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts, avocados and leafy green vegetables. The body can convert some of these into small amounts of EPA and DHA, but cold-water fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines are the sources of actual, preformed EPA and DHA. Avoid farmed salmon and try to get these and other cold-water fish from Alaska or close to the Antarctic, where the ocean waters are the least contaminated.
If getting EPA and DHA from your foods becomes a challenging task, consider a highly concentrated, purified fish oil supplement. These will ensure you’re not getting weak, toxin-filled omega-3s that your body may not even be able to convert.
How Much Fish Oil Should I Take?
From our familiarity with the clinical research that examined how differing intakes of EPA and DHA improved the Omega-3 Index, we recommend that most adults need to take 1,400 to 2,800 mg a day of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.
Children should get at least 700 mg per 40 pounds of body weight.
If you want to remain at the top of your mental game, be sure to incorporate omega-3s into your health care plan. And be sure to follow your Omega-3 Index, because unless you look at it, you won’t know how well your plan is working.
Keith is grateful to have the opportunity to write about supplements since many of them have made a dramatic difference in his life. He is often heard around the office saying, “We have supplements for that.”
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