Column: Healthy Routes – Food for the Brain
By Gladys Kublik
Owner Neighbors Vitamin Shop
Do a quick survey of the current health gurus from Dr. Oz to Andrew Weil to Dr. Mercola and you’ll find the number one health supplement recommended is Omega 3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). It is essential because the human body cannot synthesis it, but it is vital for normal development, growth and function. It is beneficial for a wide range of health concerns including brain function and learning/behavior disabilities in children, neurological health, visual function, a healthy immune system, cardiovascular health, joint mobility, anti inflammatory function and weight management.
Benefits of Omega 3 EFAs primarily EPA &DHA (2 components of omega 3 oil) were discovered in the 1970’s by researchers studying the Greenland Inuit tribe. They consumed large amounts of fat from whales, seals and fish but displayed virtually no cardiovascular disease. The high levels of Omega 3 fatty acid consumed by the Inuit reduced triglyceride levels in their blood, reduced heart rate, blood pressure and arthrosclerosis. Similar results were found in Iceland where the population has fewer problems with heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure than any other nation, also achieving one of the longest life expectancy and lowest infant mortality rates in the world attributed to high intake of DHA and EPA. Extensive research suggests that the anti inflammatory properties help prevent heart disease, cancer and arthritis.
The brains and eyes of mammals are extremely rich in EFAs. DHA is a major structural component of the brain important for memory, thought processes and behavior. Infants deprived of omega 3 during pregnancy are at risk of developing vision and nerve problems. The Canadian Government has recognized the importance of Omega 3 DHA and permits the following claim: “DHA an omega 3 fatty acid supports the normal development of the brain, eyes and nerves.” Omega 3 fatty acids are required during the prenatal period for the formation of synapses and cell membranes. This is also essential in post natal human development for injury response of the central nervous system and retinal stimulation.
The membranes surrounding neurons are made up of fat, in order for the neurons to communicate properly, these membranes need to be flexible enough to allow the vital molecules to pass through. Several factors including age and diets high in saturated fats can cause these membranes to stiffen and be less pliable resulting in mood imbalances, learning difficulties, memory difficulties and other decreases in brain function. Omega 3 supplementation restores the flexibility and pliability of the neuron membranes, resulting in increased cell communication and brain function; it also makes the blood less sticky and more fluid allowing more oxygen to reach the brain to feed it.
Studies have shown diets rich in Omega 3 can result in increased learning ability, problem solving skills, focus, memory and communication between nerve cells and brain cells. It also helps to promote a positive mood and emotional balance helping to maintain healthy mental abilities as people age.
Studies have found that children with Autism have lower levels of EFAs than other children and that the use of Omega 3 significantly increases language and learning skills. Increased bloods levels of DHA and EPA were accompanied by corresponding improvements in general health, cognitive skills, sociability as well as reductions in irritability, aggression and hyperactivity.
DHA and EPA appear to reduce ADHD related symptoms, double blind studies show medium to strong positive effects of Omega 3 with improvements in reading, spelling, and disruptive behavior. DHA is critical for early brain development and EPA is necessary for later development suggesting younger children use a supplement richer in DHA and for older children and adults one richer in EPA.
Symptoms of Omega 3 deficiency include fatigue, poor memory, dry skin, heart problems, poor circulation, mood swings and depression. As macronutrients, EFA’s are not given a Recommended Daily Allowance number but the Food and Drug Administration has advised adults can safely consume up to 3 grams per day of DHA &EPA combined.
Considering the wealth of information supporting the benefits of Omega 3 essential fatty acids we owe it to our brains, our hearts and our joints to supply the nourishment which allows them to function at optimum performance.