It has long been considered a fact that our diet and nutrition choices play a major role in the way we look and feel; but new studies are pointing to another important fact: nutrition greatly affects the way we think as well. Guess whoever coined the phrase “food for thought” wasn’t kidding!
Mental and Emotional Disorders Now Linked to Dietary Deficiencies
Research is now suggesting that what we eat can have a profound effect on what happens in our brains. Studies suggest that emotional, mental and psychiatric disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are more likely to be the result of dietary deficiencies than genetic predispositions.
Dietary deficiencies are also now being blamed for memory loss, the inability to learn new tasks and even Alzheimer’s disease. And, there is one deficiency in particular that is recurring in many studies, and that is omega-3 oils, the essential fatty acids found in cold-water fish like salmon, cod and herring.
Omega-3s and Brain Health
DHA, otherwise known as docosahexaenoic acid, is an omega-3 fatty acid that is vital for optimal brain function. DHA is found in high concentrations in the gray matter of the brain and is instrumental in how brain cell membranes function. DHA has the ability to make cell membranes more fluid which improves communication between the brain cells.
Conversely, when there is an omega-3 deficiency in the body, there is usually a resulting breakdown in communication in the brain, pretty much the one place you don’t want a communication breakdown! Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to be so important to the health of our brain, some scientists are now even speculating that it was the addition of these oils into our diets that allowed the brain to evolve to the next stage of human development.
Sadly, while people consumed plenty of omega-3s before the 20th century, scientists are now finding a serious lack of these oils in our modern diet. This is very bad because, just like a well-run-machine which needs oil, our brains also need oil to run properly. Individuals who eat the typical American diet have a higher ratio of omega-6 which they get through corn, soybean and other processed oils, but the omega-3s are often missing.
How Omega-3s can Benefit Mental and Emotional Disorders
Research has linked Omega-3 deficiencies in adults to various mental and emotional disorders. In fact, according to the editors of the book Eat and Heal, “some doctors even think the epidemic amounts of mental illness in modern societies can be traced back to the omega imbalance in the food supply.”
DHA deficiencies have been shown to lead to memory loss, bipolar disorder, depression, learning difficulties, attention deficit disorder and schizophrenia. Low levels of DHA in particular have been linked to depression since it is omega-3s that increase levels of serotonin, the “good mood” hormone.
Jean Cures, author of the book Miracle Cures, has studied the effects of various foods in the body and has herself discovered the importance of essential oils, “If you don’t feed brain cell membranes enough of the right type of fat, the messages can be short-circuited and garbled. That may mean a disturbance in mood, concentration, memory, attention, and behavior.”
Decreased Levels of Omega-3 Now Linked to Stroke and Alzheimer’s
Omega-3s are especially important in the diets of elderly people because diminished levels have been found to be a contributing factor in strokes and Alzheimer’s disease. Science is now pointing to beta-amyloid plaque, or clumps of protein in the brain, as one of the possible causes of Alzheimer’s disease. Research is now suggesting that these protein clumps might be linked to inflammation of the brain’s blood vessels.
Because omega-3 fatty acids are known to reduce inflammation, they may very well be a critical component in the fight against cognitive disease. Research in Japan has shown that supplementation with DHA sharpens the memory of patients with dementia and depression, and improves behavior and speech in patients with Alzheimer’s.
One study has found that DHA aids in routine memory function and that supplementing with omega-3s significantly decreases the number of “memory errors” and “working memory errors” in aged male rats and in young rats.
Sources of Omega-3
Cold water fish like salmon, cod and herring are the best sources of omega-3 by far, but for those people who really don’t like eating fish, there are plenty of omega-3 supplements on the market that are sourced from fish, but generally don’t have a tremendously fishy aftertaste.
For vegetarians and vegans there are omega-3s available in certain plant foods like flaxseed, walnuts and seaweed, but the DHA is generally not as potent in these forms.
Bottom line is, any and all omega-3 sources are better than none, so do your very best to increase your intake so your brain can age gracefully and healthily.