Author: Jean Carper
Excerpt From: Your Miracle Brain
To make your brain work at top form, you need a delicate balance of two essential chemical entities–so-called omega-3-type fish oil and omega-6-type vegetable oils. How much you eat of each dictates the architecture and activity of your brain.
Most important to brain function is omega-3, made up of two specific fatty acids: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoice acid).
DHA-King of the brain fats: Of all brain fats, the DHA part of omega-3 fish oil is the most powerful player in brain chemistry. It constitutes fully one-half of all fat in brain cell membranes. DHA is concentrated where it counts-in the membranes of the synaptic communication centers, in the cerebral cortex (the brain’s “thinking center”), in neurons’ internal energy factories called mitochondria, and in the photoreceptors of the retina of the eye. DHA is unique in its fluidity, needed to build and preserve pliable brain cell structures that can efficiently conduct the brain’s business. DHA also increases supplies of acetylcholine (the memory chemical) in the brains of laboratory animals and reverses their impaired learning performance. The brain grabs most of the DHA you eat to fuel its activities.
Important: One other thing, adults-not infants-can convert a short-chain fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (LNA) into the DHA powerhouse. You get alpha-linolenic acid in green leafy vegetables, flax seed and flax seed oil, canola oil, walnuts, Brazil nuts, seaweed, and algae-not at the top of most Americans’ menu. Even so, it’s virtually impossible for your body to make enough DHA to meet your brain’s demands. Researchers also suggested fish may contain brain-protective antioxidants, such as selenium, in addition to omega-3 fatty acids.
“I would recommend DHA for everybody in this country, especially if you’re a non-fish-eater. Over the last forty years, dietary levels of DHA have been depleted by about 50 percent.”
– David Kyle, Ph.D., Martek Biosciences Corporation.
The Alzheimer’s Connection
Eating fish may also protect you from developing dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Indeed, low levels of DHA-type fish oil predict dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in older people, according to a blood analysis of 1188 elderly subjects (average age seventy-five) in the famed Framingham Heart Study. Dr. Ernst Schaefer, and colleagues at Tufts University, found that those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease were twice as apt to have low DHA blood levels. Further, those with low blood DHA had a 67 percent greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s in the next ten years. They also were four times more likely to have lower scores on a specific mental abilities test geared to older people called the Mini Mental State Exam (MMSE). Thus, researchers concluded low bloods levels of DHA are a risk factor for low mental performance and the development of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia as you age. One contributing reason: Older people lose the ability to synthesize DHA. This means they must consume DHA directly in fish or fish oil to supply the brain with enough DHA to function normally.
Fish oil is even a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. A team of Israeli-American researchers have recently shown that the right amount of omega-3 fatty acid in capsules dramatically improved memory, mood, and other symptoms in a surprising 81 percent of a group of patients with Alzheimer’s. Previously the investigators at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan had discovered that rats learned better after taking a ratio of one part omega-3 fatty acid and four parts omega-6 fatty acids. They decided to try the same mixture in a test of one hundred Alzheimer’s patients; sixty got the omega-3-omega-6 capsule, while forty others got a placebo.
After only one month, the improvement in those taking the fatty acid capsule was striking. Most of them were more cooperative, better organized, in a better mood, had a better appetite, fewer sleep problems, and hallucinations and were more alert during the day. Most important, short-term memory improved in 74 percent and long-term memory in 58 percent. Researchers credited the better behavior and mood to beneficial changes in the fat composition of the membranes of nerve cells.