How does your brain work best? It is based on omega-3 fatty acids – from the moment you are born.
Omega-3 fats are the structural material of nerve cells, says Dr. Tom Brenna, Professor of Human Nutrition at the University of Texas at Austin. They are essential fats, which means your body can’t make them on its own. So you need to get them either through food or through supplements. Basically, like calcium for bones, omega-3 for the brain.
Here’s exactly what they do for your brain and body – and how you can achieve more every day.
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There are three primary omega-3 fatty acids that are polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs): DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid). More than 30 percent of your brain is made up of these PUFAs.
Although all PUFAs are essential, research shows that DHA and EPA have a particularly powerful impact on your health. DHA primarily plays a role in developing the structure of your brain, while EPA supports your heart health by reducing inflammation, keeping your triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood) in check, and maintaining healthy blood flow in your arteries.
Both DHA and EPA are especially important when it comes to regulating brain function. While the exact contributions of EPA vs. DHA to cognitive function are not exactly clear, studies have found a link between omega 3 and Alzheimer’s, depression, cognitive performance, and ADHD.
Additionally, research published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine shows that omega-3 fats can reduce your post-workout muscle soreness and increase your mobility.
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So what if you are not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids? “A lack of essential omega-3 fatty acids can negatively affect the structure and function of brain cells, so-called neurons,” explains Dr. Joe Maroon, Clinical Professor of Neurology at the University of Pittsburgh who works with senior athletes from the NFL and WWE. “The administration of essential omega-3 fatty acids can improve blood circulation [and] the formation of new brain cells. “
Fortunately, there is an easy way to get more omega-3 fatty acids into your diet. Federal and global guidelines recommend eating a variety of fish and shellfish at least twice a week, or an average of 250 to 500 milligrams of EPA and DHA per day. The best sources of DHA and EPA are seafood, especially oily fish like anchovies, herring, mackerel, tuna, and salmon. In fact, a PLoS Medicine study showed that eating more seafood could prevent an average of 84,000 preventable deaths each year.
While there are vegetarian and vegan sources of omega-3 ALA, such as walnuts, flax seeds, and chia seeds, research shows that your body isn’t efficiently converting ALA to EPA or DHA. In this case, as a vegan or vegetarian, you might want to consider an EPA and DHA algae supplement to get the omega-3 fatty acids typical of seafood.
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Unfortunately, most Americans don’t meet the above nutritional guidelines. “95% of the US population are not getting enough omega-3s to be cardioprotective,” said Ellen Schutt, vice president of communications and education for the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED)).
Because of this, some experts recommend shooting a little higher than the above recommendations, which is why some people top off their diet with fish oil supplements.
Overall, most experts agree that a daily gram of EPA and DHA combined is a solid base dose for overall health. You can find this in only about 2 to 3 ounces of fish like salmon, sardines, tuna, and oysters. And if you just don’t eat a lot of fish, then you should definitely consider a good quality fish (or algae) oil supplement as well to maximize your intake.
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