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Nutrient - Omega 3 fats help protect brain cells

By Holly Taylor BSc (Hons) DipCNM MBANT NTCC

Omega 3 fatty acids, especially the long-chain ones found mainly in fish and shellfish (EPA and DHA), are important for the brain, where they appear to help cells to grow, regenerate and signal to each other. Poor intake of these essential fats can reduce brain function and may contribute to loss of mental function in ageing. In recent years, research about how these fatty acids work in the brain has become very active and a new study, published in Molecular Neurobiology, has found exciting evidence that shows fish oil omega 3s could also be important for protecting the brain from disease.

In conditions of brain injury, such as stroke or insufficient blood flow, epilepsy and Alzheimer’s disease, harmful substances are released that damage brain cells and cause them to die. The loss of cells makes the original injury worse. However, when a good supply of omega 3 essential fatty DHA is available, it can be released from the cells and be converted  to a powerful anti-inflammatory substance called neuroprotectin. This substance generates several responses that protect the cell. These range from reducing inflammation and interfering with signals that promote cell death to stimulating the production of proteins with various protective properties.

Although this new research is still at the laboratory stage, it supports evidence from previous dietary studies that have shown people who consume fish and shellfish regularly have a lower chance of developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s. An important consideration, however, is that prevention through good dietary habits needs to happen early in life, not when the first signs of impaired mental function appear. It takes years for Alzheimer’s disease to develop, so the most prudent approach, even in the absence of conclusive evidence, would be to make regular intake of marine omega 3s a lifelong habit.

Article References

Palacios-Pelaez R et al. Omega-3 essential fatty acids modulate initiation and progression of neurodegenerative disease. Mol Neurobiol. 2010; 41(2-3):367-74.

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