How Does Eating Fish Help My Brain?

And here it is. The third post in the trilogy of my posts about omega-3 fatty acids and our last stop on the Omega 3 highway (that sounds a bit spaceish doesn’t it?).

The omega-3 fatty acid articles are a trilogy that covers all important aspects of adding more of this fatty acid family in your diet. In the first post you will see how eating omega-3 fatty acids can impact your physical health. The second one talks about the mental health aspect, and the last one about our brain and known cognitive outcomes due to omega-3 fatty acids.

This article talks about how eating omega-3 fatty acids affects our cognition, so basically how well we memorize, the level of our attention, how do we make decisions, and our intellectual abilities.

 

Some facts

Our brain. A beautifully complex organ when you think about it. Around 60% of its structural material are lipids composed out of cholesterol and phosphoglycerides. Because of this, the lipids are rich in omega-6s(AA) and omega-3 (DHA), and these represent around 15-30% of the brain’s dry weight together. Moreover, they are also one of the main components of biological membranes in general. DHA is extremely important for the effectiveness of the transmission of messages throughout our brain; how effectively our neurons fire, because of its role as a structural part of the brain plasma membranes. But as we know, our brain cannot make DHA by itself, as I explained in the first evidence-based post about fish.

As we can imagine, DHA has been recognized as an important player in the brain plasticity and cognitive functioning league. As I have before mentioned, it is an important part of neural membranes since it accumulates very fast in the brain tissue during infancy. And that is the main reason it’s extremely important for mothers to eat foods which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids; our bodies cannot produce it, yet it is extremely important for optimal development.

Furthermore, if you do not get enough DHA through your diet when your brain is still developing, the consequences can be quite far-reaching. It affects how well your adult brain will be able to change and adapt as a consequence of:

  • the environment
  • your behavior
  • your neural processes
  • bodily injuries that might happen

This is the mentioned brain plasticity, a brain with diminished plasticity functions sub-optimally when presented with different new situations.

 

The list grows

Mothers need to get enough of DHA, and all omega-3 fatty acids for that matter, during pregnancy because they are transmitted to the fetus via the placenta. Inadequate levels of DHA can cause a particular substance in the brain to be defunct. This substance has been shown to have certain implications in the physiology of anxiety and depression. This defunct mechanism may also give a possible explanation, why some results show that one year and a half old children, whose mothers ate fish around four times per week, had higher developmental scores than those, whose mothers did not.

And that is not the end of it.

Children at the age of four, whose mothers were supplemented with omega-3’s, had much higher IQ than those, whose mothers were supplemented with corn oil.

At the same time, DHA rich eating patterns in the early infant diet could positively support the development of our visual system. However, the long-lasting effects of this are rather unclear as of yet.

Even our close relatives benefit from adequate levels of omega-3 fatty acids. In one study, they were giving Rhesus Macaque monkeys an omega-3 fatty acid rich diet. The noted outcome was better functional connectivity in the visual system, normal cognitive functioning, and a better functional connectivity across a more distributed network in the brain. This was observed when these monkeys were compared to another group which did not receive a omega-3 rich diet.

 

Some more facts

Multiple researchers have also noted that elderly populations with PUFA rich diets do better at different cognitive tasks. However, the question, how do these effects pronounce themselves throughout our lifespan, remains open. I am positive it will be answered in the future.

I must also mention that DHA has primarily a neuroprotective role. It’s not so much of a cognitive enhancer. This means that we can see different problems in cognitive functioning in the later stages of your life if your diet did not include enough DHA when you were still a fetus, when you were breastfed, or when you were a toddler. Moreover, in these cases, you have an increased risk for anxiety-like behavior during your adulthood.

One study also noted slower declines in cognition with patients who had the lowest Alzheimer’s symptoms.

 

And how exactly?

DHA has a possible protective role in:

  • The prevention of nerve cells from being damaged or killed because of excessive stimulation.
  • Oxidative stress, which is thought to be involved in a number of diseases. These include cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, atherosclerosis, heart failure, and others.
  • Optimal membrane fluidity, which is necessary for normal functioning of different brain mechanisms that can cause psychiatric illnesses if defunct.

References used: [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]

I will enjoy reading about your thoughts as well as your fears and ideas on this matter. I suppose these three posts were enough evidence for you to add (even) more fish into your eating patterns?

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About Author

Sebastijan Veselic

BSc in Psychology, currently doing a MSc in Cognitive science. Pursuing and interested in many academic and scientific disciplines and topics, as well as some less so. These include, but are not limited to, cute cats on the internet.

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