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Omega-3 Can Help with Brain Health

Beth Bradford

Jul 16, 2023

Why increasing your Omega-3 consumption in your midlife could provide greater benefits for your brain.

In addition to lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease, Omega-3 fatty acids from fish can also help you think more clearly in your 40s and 50s, according to a recent study in Neurology. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) levels were evaluated in 2,183 participants with an average age of 46. The subjects' brain tissue, including the hippocampus, was examined by the researchers using MRI technology. Our memory is controlled by the hippocampus, which degenerates the most with Alzheimer's disease. The study also examined the subjects' cognitive abilities, including their executive function, abstract reasoning, and episodic memory.

Higher Omega-3 concentrations were associated with greater hippocampus sizes and improved abstract cognition. The subjects were then divided into groups according to whether or not they carried the APOE-e4 gene, which increases one's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. Those without the APOE-e4 gene who had greater DHA levels also had larger hippocampus volumes. Higher EPA levels were associated with higher levels of abstract thinking compared to individuals with lower amounts of this Omega-3 fatty acid, which is associated with the Alzheimer's disease gene.

The value of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet

The study's authors claimed that Omega-3 fatty acids shield the brain, although they do not know how. For those who carry the APOE-e4 gene, omega-3s also provide defense against cognitive impairment.

The study's primary author is Claudia Satizabal, Ph.D., an assistant professor of population health sciences at UT Health San Antonio. She said studies on elderly populations have shown that Omega-3s have a protective effect on the brain against cognitive decline. "The new contribution here is that, even at younger ages, if you have a diet that includes some omega-3 fatty acids, you are already protecting your brain for most of the indicators of brain aging that we see at middle age," Satizabal said.

Omega-3 fatty acids must be obtained from diet, according to Harvard School of Public Health, because the body cannot produce them. Polyunsaturated EPA and DHA lipids are abundant in fish. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another Omega-3 fatty acid, can be found in plant-based foods such as almonds, flax seeds, and green vegetables.

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