Most people will have heard that fish is good for the brain but not everyone understands just why the fatty acids found in fish are so important, and are still unaware of what happens if they don’t get enough in their diet.
A healthy brain relies on Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These long chain polyunsaturated Omega 3 fatty acids are the building blocks of the brain itself and are only found in any significant quantities in oily fish and of course fish oil. The other Omega 3 fatty acid is Alpha linolenic acid (ALA), which can be found in some vegetable oils, nuts and plants however, we cannot easily convert this into EPA and DHA which means we have to source these two directly from fish.
Most health professionals believe that DHA is the fatty acid that is most important for healthy structure and development of the brain and for vision so it is vital that there is enough DHA in the diet during pregnancy and in the first few years of a child’s life. EPA synapse xt on the other hand, is essential for healthy functioning of the brain on a day to day basis, which means that throughout your life you need a constant supply of EPA.
Sadly, for most people, this just isn’t happening as our diets tend to be rich in Omega 6 fatty acids and poor in fish sources of Omega 3. Omega 6 is abundant in vegetable oils, processed foods, meats and dairy products. Furthermore, if the brain cannot get the fatty acids it needs it will rely on replacement fatty acids that just aren’t cut out for the job. It’s a bit like putting the wrong fuel in your car and expecting it to run smoothly. Many health professionals are now attributing a number of diseases and health problems to the imbalance between Omega 3 and Omega 6 in our diets and this view is backed up by an increasing number of clinical trials and studies.
If we relate this to mental health for example, people with depressive disorders, ADHD, bipolar disorder, memory problems, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, have been found to have low concentrations of Omega 3 in their blood along with a high ratio of Omega 6. Why would this have such an impact? Well, every second of our lives we are converting fatty acids into eicosanoids. Eicosanoids are hormone-like compounds that control every physiological function in the body and depending on what fatty acids are available, for example Omega 3 or Omega 6, the eicosanoids will either be anti-inflammatory or pro-inflammatory.
Omega 6 fatty acids are known to be pro-inflammatory, they help the blood to clot, and promote tumour growth. Omega 3 fatty acids do exactly the opposite so it isn’t hard to imagine that a diet too rich in Omega 6 and too poor in Omega 3 can have a devastating effect on both physical and mental wellbeing.