Dietary supplements for brain health have become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more people taking nutritional supplements in the hope of improving memory and cognition. One of the most popular is omega-3 fish oil.
While there is no hard-and-fast evidence yet to prove that omega-3 fish oils can boost your brain’s health, there is plenty of evidence that supports its use. High levels of omega-3 in the blood correlate strongly with better brain health. People who consume a diet that happens to be high in omega-3 fish oils appear to perform better on tests of memory and cognitive function, as well as enjoying more stable moods and lower rates of anxiety. Most interestingly, for researchers, high omega-3 levels seem to be associated with lower rates of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
Understanding the link
How might omega-3 fish oil support brain health? It turns out that there are possible mechanisms that might explain the apparent positive effects of omega-3 on the brain. It’s known that omega-3 fatty acids are essential in neurological function generally. These compounds, along with their metabolites, are heavily involved in many processes, including neurotransmitter levels, the cerebral blood supply, the management of oxidative stress, and even gene expression. The omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are vital for brain function — without them, the brain could not live.
The next question is whether supplementation is a good idea. It’s not clear whether supplementation with fish oils, such as cod-liver oil or krill oil, will provide the benefits you need. They certainly contain the omega-3 fatty acids that you’re looking for and will raise blood levels of these fatty acids if you take them. With that said, it’s unclear whether fish oil supplements have a direct effect on brain health. While some studies into fish oil and brain health have been performed, they’ve been of fairly short duration and haven’t shown any conclusive benefits. It may be that you need to take omega-3 fish oils over a long period to see any benefit.
What we do know for sure is that people who have diets that are high in omega-3 oils have lower rates of dementia and better brain health in general than those who do not. These diets usually involve lots of oily fish, such as salmon and tuna. While there are some good plant sources for omega-3 fatty acids, including avocados and hemp seed, these tend to be less abundant in omega-3s, and you would need to consume more of them to get the same effect.
Diet & Lifestyle
It’s worth noting that diets high in omega-3 oils tend to be healthier overall. In cultures where oily fish is consumed in quantity, other healthy foods also feature heavily. Consider coastal Mediterranean diets, which include fatty fish like sardines and which are associated with lower rates of dementia. These diets also include plenty of delicious fresh vegetables and other ingredients that are better for your overall health. Lifestyles tend to be healthier in general, with more physical activity and lower levels of stress.
What we can take from this is that, while omega-3 fish oils may have a positive impact on brain health, they need to be included alongside other diet and lifestyle changes. Merely taking a cod-liver oil capsule every day probably won’t deliver the kind of benefits you might be hoping for. If you want to boost your brainpower in the medium term and fend off degenerative brain issues in later life, omega-3 fish oils should be just one part of a broader strategy. This could involve changes to your diet — consuming more oily fish while adding more vegetables and cutting down on processed carbohydrates and red meat. It would help if you also tried to get more physical exercise, aiming for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. These changes may help to improve your brain health, as well as boosting your overall well-being.
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