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Newest Thoughts on Brain Food

November 29, 2007 | 171,773 views

Fish have long been regarded as “brain food” because of their high content of omega-3 fatty acids.

Historically, omega-3 fats have been said to improve brain development and maintenance. Now, two new studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition provide further evidence for the beneficial effects of omega-3 fats, including better performance or preservation of your brain function as you age.

While numerous studies exist showing diets high in omega-3 fats lower your risk of dementia, these newer studies looked at the benefits of omega-3 fats among healthy people, with the hope that they would prevent progression to dementia.

More than 5 million Americans have some form of Alzheimer’s disease, and just as many suffer from vascular dementia, so preventing and slowing the progression of neurodegenerative disorders is a public health imperative.

The studies found:
  • A diet high in fish and fish products is associated with better cognitive performance
  • Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids were associated with less decline in the speed-related cognitive domains
It often takes decades for dementia to develop and brain volume to shrink. These studies of the benefits of omega-3 fats on brain function offer an opportunity for early intervention to maintain your brain function and slow progression to dementia.
 
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Dr. Mercola's Comments:

It is now clearer than ever that consuming plenty of omega-3 fats will help to keep your brain functioning at its optimal level, even as you age. Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease are not a normal part of aging, and neither is becoming forgetful or otherwise senile. 

One of the easiest and most powerful things you can do to keep your brain healthy is to get enough omega-3 fats. The evidence on this just keeps pouring in, and this month alone there were two important studies on the topic published in my absolute favorite nutrition journal,  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN).

The first looked at the relationship between fish consumption and brain performance in the elderly. It is thought that cognitive impairment and dementia among this age group are directly influenced by how much seafood (rich in omega-3 fats) is eaten.

Sure enough, it was found that among the elderly, those who ate plenty of fish and seafood had better cognitive performance. And the more fish they ate, the better their brain function was.

In fact, those who ate 10 grams or more of seafood a day had up to an 80 percent reduced risk of having poor scores on brain function tests compared to those who ate less seafood. In case you forgot your metrics, 10 grams is a mere one-third of one ounce, so for a week that would be a whopping two ounces.

The best results seemed to come from eating non-processed lean fish and fatty fish. Not surprisingly, benefits from eating processed fish and fish sandwiches were inconsistent, “possibly because cooking and preparation methods influence the nutritive value of the meal,” the researchers said.

Does this mean that you should start eating more non-processed seafood? Absolutely not, and I’ll explain why later.

But first let’s take a look at what the second AJCN study found.

It’s known that the rate of cognitive decline varies significantly between individuals, and it’s known that omega-3 fats found in fish and fish oils can account for some of these differences. A lower intake of omega-3 fats tends to lead to cognitive impairment and mental decline.

This study looked at the association between omega-3 fats and brain function in five specific cognitive domains over a three-year period.

They found that a higher intake of omega-3 fats resulted in less decline in the sensorimotor speed and complex speed cognitive domains. 

Folks, this is very clear-cut evidence. If you eat more omega-3 fats, you will keep your brain functioning better, and slow its decline as you age.

The Best Sources of Omega-3 Fats

There is an interesting discussion brewing below among Vital Votes readers about the best way to get your omega-3s. Hands down, the best way would have been to eat oily fish like salmon -- but now that most all fish is contaminated with pollutants, it is not safe to eat, in my opinion.

If you’d like to stick with fish as your source of omega-3 fats, I would highly recommend that you only eat small fish (which have not had time to bioaccumulate toxins) like sardines and anchovies. You can also eat fish that you know have been tested and shown not to contain harmful levels of mercury and other toxins. Currently, I know of only one such brand, Vital Choice Wild Red Salmon.

What about taking fish oil or cod liver oil? I used to highly recommend this as an excellent source of omega-3, and I still do in some cases, but there are drawbacks to getting your omega-3 in this form.

Unfortunately, fish oil is weak in antioxidant content. Not only that, but as you increase your intake of omega-3 fats by consuming fish oil, you actually increase your need for even more antioxidant protection.

Why?

Well, fish oil is highly perishable. Antioxidants are necessary to ensure that the fish oil doesn't oxidize and become rancid inside your body (oxidation leads to the formation of unhealthy free radicals). Because of this, I now recommend that you get your omega-3 fats from Antarctic krill oil. It is superior to fish oil because it contains phospholipids, antioxidants and omega-3 bonded together in a way that keeps them safe from oxidation and easily absorbed in your body.

Personally, I take krill oil every day. I particularly appreciate the fact that the omega-3 is attached to phospholipids that dramatically increase its absorption, especially into brain tissue.

So with krill oil, you can ensure that you’re getting these incredibly healthy fats without having to worry about oxidation issues.

How to Optimize Your Brain Function

Omega-3 fats have been found time and time again to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s disease and slow age-related mental decline.

Please be aware that getting enough omega-3 fats is only part of the equation. You also need to lower your intake of omega-6 fats, which many of you likely get way too much of (they’re found in vegetable oils like corn, soy, safflower, sunflower and canola).

The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fats is 1:1. Your ancestors evolved over many thousands of years on this ratio. Today though, Americans’ ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 averages from 20:1 to 50:1! That spells serious danger for you.

Simply cutting back on processed foods (which are loaded with vegetable oils) and taking a high-quality krill oil daily (or eating sardines/anchovies) will start you on a path toward your ideal omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.

What else can you do to keep your brain function strong?

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