Protect Your Brain with Fish Oil?

protect your brain

Perhaps you have heard of the benefits of taking fish oil. Fish oil has been cited to have a number of benefits to health largely because of its high quantities of omega-3 fatty acids. Dr. Joseph Maroon, co-author of Fish Oil: The Natural Anti-Inflammatory, discusses the many benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, stating that enough omega-3 reduces the inflammatory process that is associated with so many chronic conditions.

Dr. Andrew Weil also recommends fish oil for a range of problems, including depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder. In this article, we will be discussing a bit more about how fish oil may protect your brain, specifically from brain shrinkage and memory loss.

Alzheimer's disease

Alzheimer's disease is a neurological disorder that involves worsening memory and other cognitive functions over time, and is a common form of dementia. According to Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures, one out of every three older adults die with Alzheimer's or another form of dementia. While our brains generally shrink as we age, the brains of those with Alzheimer's and dementia shrink at a more rapid rate. Because this tragic disease is so prevalent, among many other reasons, it is especially important to take care of your brain.

Can fish oil protect your brain? A study:

A news release by the American Academy of Neurology, titled "Can Fish Oil Help Preserve Brain Cells?", explores this question.

In this study, researchers looked at the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the red blood cells of about 1,100 post-menopausal women. When these women were 78 years-old, eight years later, the size of their brains were measured by MRI.

Omega-3 levels and brains: Eight years later

It was found that the women with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids had larger brain sizes eight years later.

Those women who had two times the amount of omega-3 fatty acid levels as the others had a 0.7 percent larger brain volume. Of further interest is the fact that those with higher levels of omega-3 showed a 2.7 percent larger volume in the brain's hippocampus, the center of the brain largely responsible for memory and learning. This is especially relevant to Alzheimer's disease, as the hippocampus starts to decay prior to symptoms even appearing in most patients with this disorder.

Implications of the study

Author of the study, James V. Pottala, PhD, of the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls and Health Diagnostic Laboratory, Inc., in Richmond, Virginia, states that the larger volumes found in the brains of women with higher levels of omega-3 may signify the equivalence of delaying the loss of brain cells that occur with aging an additional one to two extra years. Further, he notes, these higher levels of key fatty acids can be achieved by eating properly and taking supplements. 

Where to get omega-3 fatty acids in food

If the thought of taking fish oil just turns you off, food sources for omega-3 fatty acids include fish, such as salmon and halibut, olive oil, walnuts, and flaxseeds. If it's not going to hurt you, and may stave off Alzheimer's and bring numerous other health benefits, upping your omega-3's may be worth a try.

Sources

Alzheimer’s Association, 2013 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures, Alzheimer’s & Dementia, Volume 9, Issue 2

American Academy of Neurology (2014): Can fish oil preserve brain cells?

Maroon, JC and Bost, J (2012) Fish oil: The natural anti-inflammatory. Laguna Beach, CA: Basic Health Publications, Inc.

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