Brain on Fats

Our brains are 60% fat; making it the fattest organ in our bodies. Our brains’s 100 billion neurons need the constant supply of fats to maintain the membranes and myelin sheaths surrounding these cells. We also have somewhere up to 10,000 synapses for each neuron. The myelin sheath is the a fatty layer of insulation that speeds the transmission of nerve impulses. 

From conception to advance aging, what we feed our brains influences our cognitive, emotional and mental well- being. Studies after studies have shown that maintaining a sharp mind and a balanced emotional outlook is largely dependent on Omega-3 fats. The health benefits come form the two types of Omega 3 fats; EPA (eicospentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaneoic acid). 

Omega 3’s are considered an essential fatty acid because they’re required for optimal health and can only be obtained from dietary sources since our bodies aren’t able to synthesize them. 

EFA’s, especially the ones found in fish fats, are the most crucial molecules that influences our brains’ ability to perform. So, if your diet is flooded with poor fats, your body can only produce low- quality nerve cell membranes that don’t function as efficiently. 

Unfortunately, the typical American diet is largely lacking in these Essential Fatty Acids. Eating fish or supplementing with fish oil found in liquid and oil encapsulations are the best way to obtain them. 

Fats in Pregnancy, the Developing Brain and Postpartum Depression

During fetal and postnatal development, EFA’s are critical to fetal growth and development as well optimal maturation of the brain and eyes. Fetal brain development accelerates during the second half of the pregnancy and remains high until 5 or 6 years of age. Additionally, adequate EFA’s during pregnancy also benefits the mother, minimizing the development of postpartum depression. 

Fats in Treating Depression and Mood Disorders

The powerful effects of these same essential fatty acids help nerve cells communicate more efficiently, allowing serotonin and dopamine to get in and out the cells more efficiently. Serotonin deficiency can lead to depression. Dopamine a bit more complicated has multiple functions, but it’s most commonly known for being involved in reward, motivation, and addiction.  EFA’s can be an important adjunct therapy to standardized medications that treat neuropsychiatric disorders. 

Fats for the Aging Brain, Memory and Cognition

The smooth signaling between nerve cells in our brains are dependent on fatty acids. A recent study by the Mayo Clinic and published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that over a 4 year period; 2,000 individuals in their 70’s with the higher intake of fats decreased their risk of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) by 46%. While, individuals with a higher proportion of carbohydrates to fats in their diets increase their risk of MCI by 89%.
Several other studies showed a link between decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well as overall cognitive decline. 

Fats in the Prevention of Strokes

As far back as 2001, a study published by JAMA suggested that Omega 3’s may be just as effective as daily aspirin in reducing the risk thrombotic stroke but without the side effects of aspirin therapy. Tracking over 76,000 nurses, it found the higher the dietary intake of fish, the lower their risk of hemorrhagic stroke. 

Best Sources of EFA’s

The most concentrated and direct source of EPA and DHA come from fish. You can also obtain Omega 3’s from flaxseeds but you’d have to swallow 6 large capsules of flax seed to get the amount of EPA’s and DHA’s found in just one fish oil cap. Flax seed oil contains a type of omega 3 called ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) found in plant foods, which doesn’t convert so efficiently to EPA & DHA. Again, although not as reliable, other sources include seaweeds, chia, hemp seeds, & mustard oil. 

Considerations When Purchasing Fish Oils

Some of the heaviest concentrations of mercury, PCBs and dioxin are common contaminants found in fish. When purchasing fish oil products, make sure to read the label. The most reputable brands will molecularly distill all the heavy metals and contaminants from the fish; making even safer to eat than even a regular fish meal. 

So, next time someone calls you a fat head, take it as a compliment !

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