Omega-3: supporting your brain throughout life

Whether it’s learning how to tie your shoelaces, taking your driving test, or enjoying a crossword puzzle – your brain is there to support you throughout every stage of your life. This fascinating and complex organ is constantly learning, developing and evolving. But did you know that omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in looking after your brain health? From the time you’re developing in the womb, all the way through to retirement and beyond. Here’s how…

Omega-3 fatty acids and the brain

Omega-3 fatty acids make up part of the family of good fats that have a whole host of benefits for your health. They help to reduce inflammation and keep your eyes, heart and brain healthy.

The 3 main types of omega-3 fatty acids are called ALA, EPA and DHA. And it’s the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in particular that play an important role in brain health. They’re found mainly in oily fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines.

EPA and DHA make up part of your cell membranes and help your brain cells to send signals and communicate with one another. What’s more, large amounts of DHA are found in the grey matter of your brain, which is responsible for learning, decision-making, attention, memory and behaviour.

Tip: Swap red meat for brain-boosting oily fish like salmon, mackerel, trout or sardines once or twice a week.

Foetal development and infancy

Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in your health, even before you’re born. As you grow within the womb, the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA help your brain and nervous system, eyes and immune system to develop properly.

Throughout pregnancy, nutrients – including omega-3 fatty acids – are passed from mother to baby through the placenta. During the third trimester of pregnancy and your first few months of life, lots of DHA builds up within the tissues of your brain as it grows and develops.

Just how much omega-3 a developing foetus and newborn baby gets depends on how much a pregnant or breastfeeding mother is eating. Studies have shown that children whose mothers get enough omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and breastfeeding, score better on intelligence, coordination, and problem-solving tests.

Tip: If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and don’t enjoy oily fish, consider taking a high-quality omega-3 supplement such as SOMEGA Easy Omega-3 instead.

Childhood and teenage years

Throughout your school years, homework, exams and social pressures can put a lot of strain on your developing brain. But during this time, omega-3 fatty acids will help you to concentrate, pay attention and learn, as well as with your mood and behaviour.

What’s more, some studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids may help to improve behaviour and reading ability in children with autism or ADHD. Although more high-quality research is needed in this area before we can be absolutely sure.

Tip: Adding SOMEGA Easy Omega-3 to smoothies and using it to make delicious, nutritious energy balls is a great way to get brain-boosting omega-3s into kids’ diets (and adults’ diets too!).

Adulthood and older years

We’re now living longer than ever before and omega-3 fatty acids will help to protect your brain as you get older. While it’s normal for some of your cells to die as you age and for your brain to shrink a little, some studies have found that if you have more omega-3 in your blood as you get older, you may also have more grey matter and a lower risk of cognitive decline.

Omega-3 fatty acids can help to improve mild memory loss, reduce age-related cognitive decline and lower your risk of developing dementia. But it’s recommended that you start taking omega-3 fish oil supplements as early as possible. This is because, unfortunately, if you already have dementia, starting to take supplements won’t improve your symptoms. So, the sooner you start taking your omega-3 fish oil supplements the better.

Tip: Squirt a teaspoon or two of creamy, fruity SOMEGA Easy Omega-3 over porridge in the morning or drizzle over some Greek yoghurt and fruit for a brain-friendly healthy treat in the evening.

Resources:

  • Fat facts: Food Fact Sheet: The Association of UK Dietitians. bda.uk.com, reviewed January 2018.
  • Nutrition through life: Older adults. British nutrition foundation. Nutrition.org.uk, accessed February 2020.
  • Omega-3: Food Fact Sheet. The Association of UK Dietitians. bda.uk.com, reviewed September 2017.
  • Risk reduction of cognitive decline and dementia: WHO Guidelines. World Health Organization. who.int, published 2019.
  • Harada CN, Natelson Love MC & Triebel K. Normal Cognitive Ageing. Clin Geriatr Med 2013; 29 (4): 737-752.
  • Cyrus AR, Kirk IE et al. Regular fish consumption and age-related brain gray matter loss. Am J Prev Med 2014; 47(4): 444-451.
  • Dyall SC. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Front Aging Neurosci 2015: 7(52).
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  • Candela CG, Bermejo Lopez LM & Loria Kohen V. Importance of a balanced omega 6/omega 3 ratio for the maintenance of health: Nutritional recommendations. Nutr Hosp. 2011; 26(2): 323-329.
  • Helland IB, Smith L et al. Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age. Pediatrics 2003; 111(1) 39-44.
  • Fish oils and children. The Association of UK Dietitians. bda.uk.com, published December 2015.
  • Keenan TD, Agron E et al. Adherence to a Mediterranean diet and cognitive function in the Age-related Eye Disease Studies 1 & 2. The Journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, published 13 April 2020. doi.org/10.1002/alz. 12077

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