New research published in The FASEB Journal argues that vitamin D along with marine omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are important for serotonin synthesis, release, and function in the brain. It also suggests that vitamin D and omega-3s could work together to improve cognitive function and social behavior with particular relevance to overall mental health.
In other words, all three nutrients working together may boost your mood and promote mental wellness.
Nice. Who couldn’t use a mood boost and greater mental wellness?
The research shows one more instance of the scientific community recognizing how vital vitamin D, and EPA and DHA from fish oil are to keeping your brain healthy and happy – and how taking them together may support your brain function and mental well-being in a powerful way.
Clinical neuroscientist, board-certified psychiatrist, brain imaging expert and Amen Clinics founder Dr. Daniel G. Amen, has recommended for years that most everyone get up to 3 grams of fish oil per day and at least 2,000 IUs of vitamin D to boost brainpower, mood and other mental wellness.
Dr. Amen typically makes this recommendation because most Americans are extremely deficient in both vitamin D and omega-3s – nutrients critical to brain and body health.
Unless you are actively seeking to bolster your vitamin D and omega-3 intake, chances are strong that you are not getting enough either.
The research study reports that 70% of all adults and 67% of children, aged 1-11, do not have adequate levels of vitamin D. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health previously suggested that having low levels of omega-3 fatty acids is a leading preventable cause of cardiovascular problems and problems with attention, memory, self-control and self-harm!
So let’s take a closer look at these vital brain- and body-boosting nutrients.
EPA, DHA and the Brain
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are really important to the optimal function of your brain and here’s why. DHA makes up a large portion of the gray matter of the brain. DHA and EPA promote healthy blood flow, which is essential to optimal brain function. These fatty acids are major building blocks for membranes, cell structures that are vital for all our cells to function – and are crucial for our cell membranes to perform at their best. Our nerve cells, and especially the connections that they make (the synapses) need to be rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Think of omega-3s as high quality motor oil for the finely-tuned engine that is your brain.
Taking a quality fish oil concentrate is a great way to ensure you get enough of these healthy omega-3s.
If you need a little more convincing, take note:
- A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that EPA- and DHA-rich fish oil helps elevate mood. One twenty-year study involving 3,317 men and women found that people with the highest consumption of EPA and DHA were less likely to have mood challenges.
- A tremendous amount of scientific evidence points to a connection between consumption of fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, healthy and cognitive function.
A Danish team of researchers compared the diets of 5,386 healthy older individuals and found that the more fish in a person’s diet, the more likely were these individuals to maintain high-performance memory into old age!
To choose a quality fish oil, be sure it’s ultra pure and choose a product that supplies at least 500 mg of DHA and 500 mg of EPA per day. Some inferior quality brands are lacking in one or the other or sometimes both.
Now, you may be wondering, what about vitamin D?
Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is best known for building bones. But it is also an essential vitamin for brain health, mood, memory, and healthy circulation. The body transforms the vitamin form of D (D3, cholecalciferol) to a hormone that has wide-ranging importance in our tissues. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with mood challenges and difficulties with sociability, attention, memory, circulation, and immunity. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiencies are becoming more and more common, in part because we are spending more time indoors and using more sunscreen.
- Vitamin D is so important to brain function that its receptors can be found throughout the brain. Vitamin D plays a critical role in many of the most basic cognitive functions, including learning and making memories.
- The scientific community continues to wake up to the importance of vitamin D for a broad spectrum of brain functions. A number of studies have linked higher vitamin D levels to better cognitive function in older men and women, and some experts are convinced that the hormone produced from the sunshine vitamin is a major player in optimal cognitive function.
- When it comes to being happy, the scientific evidence is clear. The higher your vitamin D levels, the more likely you are to feel happy rather than blue.
The current Daily Value recommended dose for vitamin D is 400 IU daily, but most experts agree that this is well below the physiological needs of most individuals and instead suggest 2,000-10,000 IU of vitamin D daily.
Patrick, R et al. Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior. FASEB J fj.14-268342; published ahead of print February 24, 2015.
Danaei, G et al.The preventable causes of death in the United States: comparative risk assessment of dietary, lifestyle, and metabolic risk factors. PLoS Med. 2009 Apr 28;6(4):e1000058.
Colangelo, LA et al. Higher dietary intake of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is inversely associated with depressive symptoms in women. Nutrition. 2009 Oct;25(10):1011-9.
Kalmijn, S et al. Dietary fat intake and the risk of incident dementia in the Rotterdam Study. Ann Neurol.1997 Nov;42(5):776-82.
Moran, LJ et al. Vitamin D is independently associated with depression in overweight women with and without PCOS. Gynecol Endocrinol. 2014 Nov 4:1-4.
Perna, L et al.Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and cognitive decline: a longitudinal study among non-demented older adults. Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2014;38(3-4):254-63.
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