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Research studies show that omega-3 fatty acids help to achieve optimal functions of the brain and prevent age-related cognitive decline. These important nutrients also help to patients with various brain disorders.

These days we are bombarded with information about various supplements. The apparent benefits are multiple, but the evidences in support of such claims are often limited or inconclusive. This makes omega-3 fatty acids an exception.

Omega-3 fatty acids are true celebrities in the world of nutritional supplements. Their proven benefits are multiple and well established. One of such benefits is the compounds’ positive influence on the functions of brain.

Omega-3 fatty acids are important structural component of the brain.

The compounds belong to the class of so-called polyunsaturated fatty acids. Their molecules are used by the cells of brain to build their cell membranes. It is therefore not surprising that the overall brain health is dependent on having the access to adequate amounts of these nutrients. Most people get omega-3 fatty acids via their diet, but many others are turning to supplements to ensure that they obtain sufficient quantities of them.

Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The three primary types of omega-3 fatty acids that are important for the biochemistry of our body include ALA, DHA and EPA. These abbreviations can often be seen on the packages with omega-3 fatty acids supplements, but most people have no clue what these letters stand for. These three types of fatty acids play different roles in the body:

ALA, or alpha-linolenic acid, is used by the body primarily for energy. However, it is also needed in the body to produce DHA and EPA, other two important types of fatty acids. Without DHA and EPA, the inflammatory, nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems will not function properly, and without ALA these two nutrients will not be available in adequate quantities.

EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid, is critical for the inflammatory system in the body. EPA works to make prostaglandins, important biochemical with anti-inflammatory properties. Prostaglandins reduce the levels of inflammation in the body which may ward off diseases that are associated with excessive inflammatory response.

DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, plays a major role in the healthy function of the brain and nervous system. About 60 percent of the brain consists of fatty substances, and 15 to 20 percent of this is DHA. People with inadequate levels of DHA are at risk for developing the neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease, more severe forms of multiple sclerosis and cognitive problems. The cognitive problems can affect both children and adults.

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The majority of adults in the United States are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids. The reason for this is simple: most people do not eat enough foods that are rich in this nutrient.

Those following a vegan diet are likely to be the most deficient.

Adults can increase their intake of this fatty acid by eating the right foods or choosing to take a supplement. The following foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids:

  • Walnuts
  • Salmon
  • Tofu
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Winter squash
  • Flax seeds
  • Sardines
  • Soybeans
  • Shrimp
  • Cauliflower

If you choose to use a supplement, talk to your doctor to ensure that you are getting the right dosage.

Continue reading after recommendations

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  • Kristina M. Deligiannidis and Marlene P. Freeman (2010) Complementary and Alternative Medicine for the Treatment of Depressive Disorders in Women. Psychiatric Clinics of North America 33(2), 441-463
  • Fotuhi M, Mohassel P, Yaffe K. (2009) Fish consumption, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk of cognitive decline or Alzheimer disease: a complex association. Nat Clin Pract Neurol 5(3): 140-52
  • Gómez-Pinilla et al. (2008) Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9 (7): 568.
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