Cognitive Health Series: Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Brain Function

By: Lindsey Brumm, R.D., L.D.

There are many different elements of our diet that can aid in overall brain development and cognitive health. A focus on intake of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, has been shown to have positive effects on cognitive health due to the high nutrient content in combination with low levels of sodium, saturated fat, and other unhealthy food additives. However, today we are going to focus specifically on omega-3 fatty acids and their contribution to the overall brain health. Did you know that the adult brain is made up of 50-60% fat?

How Do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help the Brain?

Omega fatty acids are essential for brain development. They play a key role in brain functions including memory and learning. Omegas are also being researched for their impact on mood and mental health.

There are different forms of omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA, EPA, and ALA. The sources that show promise to improve mood and mental health are a combination of DHA and EPA. Research published by the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry is showing decreased feelings of depression with increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids in study participants. Omega-3 fatty acids are “essential” nutrients, meaning they cannot be produced by the body and therefore diets must contain omega-3 fatty acids in order to benefit from their brain boosting properties.

What Foods Have Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

Great sources of omegas include salmon, tuna, herring, trout and other high-fat fish. Meatless sources include flaxseeds, walnuts, vegetable oils and chia seeds. Although there are benefits to consuming these other vegan sources, such as heart health, only 0-5% of the ALA omega-3 fatty acids can be converted to DHA, and only 1-10% can be converted to EPA, which are beneficial for mental health.

Therefore, fatty fish sources would still provide the most benefit when taking care of your brain. If you are looking for a vegan source of DHA, tofu contains a small amount (approximately 32 milligrams per serving). If regular dietary intake of DHA omega-3 fatty acids is not possible, talk with your doctor or dietitian about supplementation options. If your doctor supports you adding an omega supplement to your routine, just let your Livea Consultant know that you would like to add the Livea Omega to your supplement regimen.

Resources:

Ellis, Esther, MS, RDN, LDN. Brain Health and Fish. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. August 25th, 2021.
https://www.eatright.org/health/wellness/healthy-aging/brain-health-and-fish. Accessed September 22nd, 2021.

Harrar, Sari. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mood Disorders. Today’s Dietitian. January 2012.
https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/011012p22.shtml. Accessed September 22nd, 2021.

Hermann, Mindy, MBA, RDN. Functional Foods and Cognitive Health. Today’s Dietitian. June/July 2020.
https://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/JJ20p40.shtml. Accessed September 22nd, 2021.