Fats for a Healthy Brain, by Claudia Guy ND
The human brain is complex, and memory is a complex processing of the brain. Our brains conserve long-term and short-term memories. These memories determine who we are and how we relate to our environment. There are 86 billion neurons (brain cells) in the brain orchestrating crucial functions in the human body around the clock. Every neuron is insulated in fatty tissue called the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath helps the electrical impulses of brain cells transmit faster. The brain is 60-70% fatty tissue. The type and quality of fats we consume play an integral part to protect, repair and restore brain health. The following are some types of lipids (fats) that our brains need from fetal development into adulthood.
Omega-3 fatty acids are long established essential nutrients for brain health. Both DHA (docosahexanoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are omega-3 fatty acids that function almost exclusively in all our cell membranes. 1Omega-3 fatty acids are also anti-inflammatory which balances inflammation in the brain to protect brain tissue. When it comes to the brain health and development, EPA influences behavior and mood, and DHA is essential for visual and cognitive function. 1,3 The intake of fish oils must begin during fetal development when the neural tube starts to develop. Children with healthy levels of omega-3 correlate with better learning, focus and behavior. Fish oils are still necessary for the adult and aging brain to balance mood; and protect and restore vision, memory and cognitive function.1,3
Having a healthy ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the diet can help with reducing inflammation and improving brain health. The current ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in the standard American diet is 15:1.2 Studies reveal that an ideal ratio is 3:1, revealing that Americans are considerably deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. 2 Clean, reliable sources of DHA and EPA are crucial since ocean and farmed sources can be contaminated with toxins that are fat soluble, and may be in the fatty tissue of fish.
Choline is a fatty B-vitamin, which is required by all cells. It’s one of the newly revamped nutrients since the food sources for Choline are avoided. Two main food sources of Choline are shrimp and eggs.4 Most consumers avoid the cholesterol in eggs, and currently 90% of shrimp consumed in the U.S. is farmed in unfavorable conditions. These conditions make Choline a rare food, but it is the core nutrient for brain health.4 When it comes to brain health, Choline attaches to an Acetyl group to form Acetylcholine, the number one neurotransmitter in the human body, much more so the brain.4 When Choline is attached to phosphatides, it absorbability increases dramatically. Together, phosphatides and choline can sharpen and awaken a sluggish brain, and improve and restore memory and cognitive function in an aging brain.4
Phosphatides are phospholipids. All cell membranes of the human body are made of phospholipids.6 Their structure is bipolar, meaning it has a fat-soluble end and a water-soluble end. This structure allows fluidity of the cell membrane and effective cell communication with the outside world. A cell membrane stiffened by poor quality fats will function poorly as a result. You often see phosphatides in the forms phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine.6 When phosphatides are bound to DHA and EPA, this increases brain tissue levels of fish oil. Thus, DHA and EPA work synergistically with phosphatides.7 Phosphatides support the repair and restoration of the myelin sheath, which wraps around every single nerve cell of the nervous system. Myelin sheath ensures fast neuronal connection, the process that occurs with learning, focus and memory. The human brain needs a constant flow of phosphatides to repair cognitive decline or normal wear-and-tear of the brain that occurs with aging.6 Besides repairing neuronal connections, phosphatides are important for the young developing brain of children and students.7 They help keep their brains sharp, alert and focused, and even help balance their mood and behavior.
Though Astaxanthin is not a lipid or fatty substance, it is fat-soluble powerful neuroprotective antioxidant, protecting the delicate brain tissue from free radicals. It has the ability to reduce inflammatory cytokines in the brain as well.5 Astaxanthin is a red-color carotenoid but it does not get converted to vitamin A like other carotenoids.5 The eyes accept very few antioxidants, but Astaxanthin is one of the antioxidants that has the ability to get into the eyes and protect your vision with age. It has incredible importance for repair and visual acuity—vision being an extension of brain health. In nature, Astaxanthin is found in very few sources—the bold pink color of salmon and krill.
Though the brain is complex, the decision to support brain function is not a complex one. With the brain being mostly fatty tissue, selecting the above nutrients gives an incredible advantage in brain health.
- Parris M. Kidd, PhD.Omega-3 DHA and EPA for Cognition, Behavior, and Mood: Clinical Findings and Structural-Functional Synergies with Cell Membrane Phospholipids. Alternative Medicine Review Volume 12, September 3, 2007
- Simopoulos AP.The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother. 2002 Oct;56(8):365-79.
- Rebecca Emmett, Shann Akkersdyk, Heather Yeatman, Barbara J. Meyer. Expanding Awareness of Docosahexaenoic Acid during Pregnancy. Nutrients. April 2, 2013; 5(4): 1098-1109.
- Zeisel SH, daCosta KA. Choline: an essential nutrient for public health. Nutr Rev 2009;67:615-23.
- Zhang XS, Zhang X, Wu Q, Li W, Wang CX, Xie GB, Zhou XM, Shi JX, Zhou ML. Astaxanthin offers neuroprotection and reduces neuroinflammation in experimental subarachnoid hemorrhage. J Surg Res. 2014 Nov;192(1):206-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2014.05.029. Epub 2014 May 21.
- Yael Richter, Yael Herzog, Yael Lifshitz, Rami Hayun, and Sigalit Zchut. The effect of soybean-derived phosphatidylserine on cognitive performance in elderly with subjective memory complaints: a pilot study. Clin Interv Aging. May 21, 2013; 8: 557–563.
- Holguin S1, Huang Y, Liu J, Wurtman R. Chronic administration of DHA and UMP improves the impaired memory of environmentally impoverished rats. Behav Brain Res. 2008 Aug 5;191(1):11-6. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2008.02.042. Epub 2008 Mar 18.