Omega-3 Fatty Acids – More Than Cardiovascular Protection
Omega-3 fatty acids have long been known to protect the cardiovascular system, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke, lowering blood pressure and even improve cholesterol levels. That’s a lot of power in one little group of micro-nutrients as it is but science has turned up evidence that the larger benefit from this group of fatty acids could be as a brain boosting super nutrient.
Omega-3s are called essential fatty acids because while they are necessary for optimal health, the body is incapable of producing them. Therefore, they must be obtained from what we eat. Foods that are the richest sources of these fats include certain fish like salmon, sardines and herring, as well as walnuts, flaxseed and canola oil. Other sources, while not as packed with the fats are still good sources and that includes shrimp, clams, cod and spinach.
Three main compounds make up the Omega-3 fats: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Since ALA actually is converted into the other two compounds in the body, the most important to watch for would be DHA and EPA. Those two are more readily utilized by the body.
Studies have been done with giving omega-3 supplements during pregnancy and then following the resulting infants until they were four years old. The children were consistently ahead of their peers who did not receive supplementation in utero. DHA, in particular, has been shown so beneficial to brain development that baby formula makers are including it in their formulas.
Many studies have been done and continue to be done on the effects of omega-3 supplements on the brain, both healthy and unhealthy. The compounds have been shown to improve depression and anxiety. In fact, tests were done an array of patients diagnosed with depression and found that they all had low levels of omega-3s. Since the fats are such an important part of nerve cell membranes, it is thought that the supplementation enabled the nerve cells to communicate more clearly with one another – crucial to proper mental health.
Several studies have been done to see what effect omega-3 levels may have on ADHD. They’ve consistently shown that the majority of diagnosed patients had lower levels of the fatty acids. One study gave 117 children with ADHD supplements of omega-3 fatty acids for three months. Over that time, the children showed significant improvements in spelling, reading and behavior.
Still other trials have been done to see if omega-3 supplements could prove beneficial for Alzheimer’s disease since that is primarily a disease affecting cognition and memory. Just as with the children with ADHD, it turns out that Alzheimer’s patients have low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. In the studies done thus far, there have been significant improvements in mental reasoning and memory function for early to moderate Alzheimer’s disease sufferers.
When you look at the best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids and compare it to the typical western diet, it is not surprising that a lack of these vital micro-nutrients has been theorized to correspond to the rising numbers of ADHD diagnoses and depression. Over the past fifty years, we have become more reliant on processed, refined food sources plus pollution has led to recommendations of not eating large amounts of most of the richest fish sources. Could the two be cause and effect? Only time will tell.
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