Brains Need a Good Fat–DHA–To Be Healthy

June 11, 2014 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Are you having problems thinking clearly? Is your failing memory making you miserable? If so, it could be time to “change the oil” in your brain.

Like a car engine, your brain needs the right lubrication to keep running trouble free. Because the truth is, your brain is mostly fat.  And the kind of fats you consume determines how well your brain works.

Eating commercial or prepared foods – French fries, chips, margarine, snacks, and anything made with bad fats called partially hydrogenated oils – interferes with your brain’s neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers involved in so many bodily functions.

The more bad fats you eat, the fewer connections your brain cells can make. And without those hook ups, your brain starts to fail.

At first, the signs aren’t serious. You might miss an appointment or forget a friend’s name. But before long, you could find yourself unable to recall important details – like remembering if you took medication – or end up diagnosed with depression, one of the many unfortunate consequences of a malnourished brain.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s one simple trick I recommend to patients who complain of memory or brain problems.

Whenever a patient tells me their memory isn’t functioning as well as it used to, I recommend omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). These are nutrients that your body can’t manufacture, so you must get them from food or supplements.

Your brain isn’t the only organ that benefits from omega-3s. Your heart, blood pressure, blood thickness, cholesterol, inflammation – these are just a few of the areas where omega-3s can make a huge difference.

And that’s not all! Research has shown that omega-3 EFAs can ease symptoms of depression, provide pain relief, treat chronic headaches, and even counteract the memory-robbing effects of stress.

If you eat fatty, cold-water fish – salmon, herring, anchovies, or mackerel, for example – a few times each week, you’re getting some EFAs.

Unfortunately, you’re also getting a hefty dose of the heavy metals and toxins that pollute the ocean these days. That’s why I insist my patients use a purified, molecularly distilled product. And if it’s from a sustainable source – which most fish oil isn’t – even better!

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Another thing about getting omega-3s from fish – the EFAs are not in the right proportions for superior brain health, and that means your brain won’t get the fuel it needs to work properly.

New research suggests that the DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) form of EFAs is superior to the EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) form, particularly for brain health and maintaining normal blood pressure.

Can omega-3s make a difference to your health? One of my patients discovered “a whole new life” with these nutrients.

There’s only one word to describe Ken when he came to see me several years ago – he was a mess! Creaky, painful joints, headaches, exhaustion, and skin so dry it frequently cracked and bled.

But the one thing that concerned Ken more than anything else was his forgetfulness. Bills were going unpaid, meetings were forgotten, and he had to write down everything or he immediately forgot. “Once, I even parked my car in a mall parking lot and forgot to turn it off,” he confessed. “I’m lucky no one stole it.”

The memory problems made Ken feel old and depressed. “I used to be one of the smartest people in the room. Now I just feel like a doddering old man who can’t even remember to turn off his car. Pretty soon, I’ll probably have to stop driving.”

Did I mention that Ken was only in his early 60s, hardly old enough to be “a doddering old man?” Lucky for Ken, getting his health back was fairly simple.

He was stuck in the old notion that all fat is bad, and avoided it whenever possible. Ken thought he was keeping his heart healthy. The truth was, his entire body – especially his heart and brain – were desperate for the right kind of fat.

I explained the concept of “good fats,” and recommended Ken take three grams of omega-3s every day. Three months later, when he came back to my clinic for a recheck, I barely recognized him.

Ken’s skin was plump with good color. He was energetic and full of enthusiasm, much different than the depressed patient I’d met originally. And his memory problems? “Gone!” he told me. “It’s hard to believe that just one supplement made such a huge difference for me. I feel like I have a whole new life!”

Be aware that omega-3 EFAs thin the blood. For most people, that’s a good thing. But if you take blood thinners (Plavix, Coumadin, warfarin), talk with your physician or pharmacist about adding omega-3 EFAs to your daily regimen.

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