Answer is an astounding : YES, Omegas are very good for the Brain!

Did you know that your brain is primarily made up of lipids? One of the best lipids, or fatty substances, are omega 3 free fatty acids, also known as omega 3’s. The mechanism by which these improve brain health is complex, but the conclusion is that the more omega 3 concentration in your brain, the less brain aging.

A recent review article from France on omega 3’s and their impact on brain health extensively outlined the research on this topic.[1] Their conclusion was that there is a plethora of evidence that supports the use of omegas for reducing risks of developing age-related brain degeneration of the brain, such as seen in Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias.

There are several other mechanisms by which omegas may protect against brain aging. They improve cell membranes, reduce damage to cell structures, decrease inflammation, and improve vascular function which improves nutrients delivered to the brain cells.

Omegas Improve Composition of Neurons

Nerve cell membranes in particular are composed mainly of lipids. Higher levels of omegas contribute to this and thus improve the function and integrity of the cell membranes. Thus, their function is improved which equates to better neurotransmission and thought process. This was indeed found to be true when higher levels of omega 3’s were present in the brain. Higher levels of course were produced by ingesting higher amounts of omega 3’s.

You can eat a lot of foods with omega 3’s as one method of consuming large amounts of them, such as 4 ounces of salmon twice a day. However, if you’re like most people, you’d have a hard time doing this. It’s much easier to just take high dose omega 3 supplements, say around 850 mg to 1 gm twice a day, or more if you see signs of poor mental acuity. Omega 3 supplements have been shown through research to increase omega 3 levels within the brain, improving neuronal membranes.[2]

Omegas Prevent Damage to Nerve Mitochondria

When one ages, damage to the cellular structures (including the DNA) may occur from just natural metabolism and energy production by mitochondria (the powerhouses within each cell). These may result in free radical formation, also called peroxidative damage. Omegas appear to prevent this, possibly by their antioxidant effects.

When damage occurs to the mitochondria, energy production within the cells is reduced. The result is your thinking becomes sluggish; you don’t remember items as well. Studies have shown that omegas improve and counteract the age-related decrease in mitochondrial function which also helps reduce neuronal death. In other words, your nerve cells live longer and function more efficiently over time.

Omegas Reduce Inflammation Around Nerve Cells

Without some protection, damage to the neurons may occur which kick-starts a natural reparative process around the brain cells. Immune cells come in to do this repair, but when the damage becomes excessive, excess immune response results in inflammation. As you age, your immune system doesn’t work quite at maximum capacity anyway, resulting in more inflammation and damage to the cells. Omegas primarily work by decreasing this inflammation.

Inflammation is the root cause of the development of chronic medical illnesses. Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, starts with inflammation and progresses to the neurological damage seen in the disease. Thus, the best way to treat Alzheimer’s disease is to prevent it. Unfortunately, changes to the brain leading to this disease start to occur almost twenty years before symptoms appear. You must therefore be proactive and boost your omega 3 levels starting when you are at least middle age, if not before.

Omegas Induce Brain Cell Formation

For better cognition and memory, your brain must make new brain cells. When you have a memory, normal brains secrete a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). The better your brain secretes this, the more you’ll remember that memory. Omegas have been shown to increase BDNF production, which in turn results in formation of more brain cells to improve your memory.

Omegas Reduce Deposition of Abnormal Protein on Nerve Cells

In many age-related degenerative conditions, some type of protein attaches itself to the nerve cells and is thought to be a part of the degeneration of the nerves resulting in conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Tau disease, etc. Omegas improve the removal of these proteins by stimulating a process called phagocytosis; i.e. your immune cells essentially “eat” the excess protein to decrease its accumulation on the nerve cells. Thus, omegas may decrease these problems from developing through this process which is part of their ability to boost your immune system.

Omegas Improve Vascular Health

Another problem that occurs as you age is you may develop vascular problems resulting in less blood supply to the brain cells. These vascular changes are called vascular aging and can affect the brain in a similar fashion to the heart and other organs.  Omegas have been shown to improve the lining of all arteries and vascular structures, and this is also partly how they improve your heart health too. This has been discussed in another article on our blog.

Conclusion

In conclusion, omegas do improve brain health through multiple mechanisms. The key is to ingest adequate amounts of them in order for them to provide you with this protection. Taking omega 3 supplements is one way to make sure you’re getting high amounts of omegas to do this.

References:

[1] Denis I, Potier B, Heberden C, Vancassei S. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and brain aging. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care: March 2015. 18(2):139–146. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0000000000000141

[2] Hennebelle M. et al. Ageing and apoE change DHA homeostasis: relevance to age-related cognitive decline. Proc Nutr Soc. 2014: 73-86