DHA: The Smartest Brain Boosting Fat
Most of us expect a lot out of our brain, which serves as the center of our nervous system and the control panel for our entire body. Even while we’re at rest, kicking back with our feet up or fast asleep, our brains are going a mile a minute - planning, dreaming, thinking, working overtime on our latest project, debating and chilling out.
“The brain is a wonderful organ; it starts working the moment you get up in the morning and does not stop until you get into the office,” poet Robert Frost once quipped. But we want our brains to function even at the office – no matter what obstacles or stress-inducing tasks the day might bring.
And one of the best ways to ensure brain health – aside from taking in enough H2O to properly hydrate the organ that is about 78 percent water – is to make sure we're taking in enough DHA.
DHA: What is it?
One of the critical components found in the Omega 3 fatty acids in fish oils (another is EPA), DHA is the primary structural component of the human brain, and as such, is essential for brain health.
DHA fatty acids are responsible for controlling the flow of nerve impulses that create our consciousness, and all of us can benefit from having enough available for brain fuel.
In babies, DHA has been linked to healthier birth weights and a longer gestational period, resulting in fewer health problems at birth, and potentially even much later in life. Many studies have shown that it also plays a role in cognitive function, attention span and intelligence of children as they age, making it a vital component of early diets.
Our bodies don’t produce DHA or EPA, though most contemporary baby formulas are fortified with DHA to help meet baby’s needs. After that we’re on our own.
There was a time, experts say, when the rest of us also got what we needed through our diets to support our health. Today, that’s no longer true.
According to experts, changes in agriculture are ultimately responsible for the lack of DHA in our food supply. A few decades ago we changed the diet of the cattle used in beef production from grass – rich in Omega 3s – to corn, which offers none of the healthy fats that serve as brain food.
In fact, no matter how much we talk about it in the news, processed foods have changed the way we eat, and healthier, DHA-rich options are being squeezed out in favor of burgers and fries, chicken tenders and pizza.
The health impacts are bigger than we can imagine. Consider all the cases of ADHD that are currently being diagnosed as today’s children begin making their way through the school system.
What if something as simple as adding DHA to the diet – clearly linked in studies to improved brain function and attention span – could make a difference?
Certainly, an Omega 3 supplement such as fish oil sounds better than the prescription ADHD medications that can disrupt hormones and lead to physical abnormalities as serious as enlarged breasts (gynecomastia) – and in some cases lactation – in boys when they hit puberty.
Memory problems? Forget about it
According to a study conducted by researchers at New Zealand’s Massey University, those who were given daily DHA supplements had improved memory and reaction times compared to those who had taken a placebo.
As cases of Alzheimer’s disease grow to an estimated 36 million worldwide – a number that is expected to reach 65.7 million by 2030 – it’s important to look at ways we can prevent avoid this condition and maintain proper brain health throughout our lives.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that as many as half of all Americans alive today will end their lives in nursing homes, not because their bodies will cease to function properly, but because of their brains.
Degeneration of the brain – memory loss, dementia, loss of brain function, etc. – is one of the top causes of death in the U.S., but because it is often accompanied by a relatively healthy body, it is a slow, sad death for everyone involved.
While there are no prescription drugs on the market to effectively treat degeneration of the brain, there is a wealth of good evidence suggesting that the DHA in Omega 3 fatty acids can not only protect the brain from degeneration, but may also help reverse some memory loss.
A 2010 study found that adults aged 55 and older who were experiencing age-related memory losses saw their memory – and ability to learn – improve with the addition of DHA supplements.
It has also been shown to improve the memories of those with early signs of Alzheimer’s, though other cognitive functions saw bigger benefits.
Most experts believe that the brain degeneration that marks Alzheimer’s disease begins well before the symptoms of the disease show up, suggesting that prevention is key.
Need a better reason to start taking an Omega 3 fish oil supplement? We’ve got some more.
Bad mood buster
Low DHA levels have also been linked to depression in a variety of different studies.
One had researchers looking at military personnel serving in Iraq, and revealed that those who had higher levels of DHA were less likely to experience post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression.
Another study found that incidents of bipolar disorder were lower in countries that consumed more fish than in countries that didn’t, further supported by research that found a tendency to have lower levels of DHA in people diagnosed with bipolar disorder than in those without it.
According to Dr. Michael Colgan, numerous studies showed that not only did DHA supplements help lessen the risk of cognitive degeneration in middle-aged and older people as they age, they were also more positive, and better able to see the sunny side of life, no matter what aging issues they faced.
Love your heart, too
Those who take an Omega 3 fatty acid supplement with both DHA and EPA tend to have lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure, according to a 2009 report.
Dr. Mehmet Oz has said that the fatty acids in Omega 3s are good protectors of heart health, and can lower the risk of blocked arteries, which was echoed in a 2009 study that determined regular doses of Omega 3 fatty acids, especially DHA and EPA, significantly reduced the risk of dying from heart disease.
That’s especially good news for women, since doctors are still lagging when it comes to recognizing the symptoms of heart disease and diagnosing it in women, even though heart diseases kills more women than men every year.
Make sure to get the best
Many people think about an Omega 3 fish oil supplement and gag at the thought of that fishy aftertaste. There have also been concerns that some of the fish oils on the market have been crafted with fish that may be contaminated with high levels of mercury, erasing the benefits of the fish oil.
That’s why you want to make sure that the Omega 3 supplements in your cabinet are the purest possible, ensuring that you get all the health benefits possible from the supplement.
At Xtend-Life, we only use Hoki fish sourced from the Southern Ocean off the coast of New Zealand, a waterway where currents prevent many contaminants from entering, ensuring a healthier fish species free from toxins. In addition, our fish oils contain concentrated tuna oils that offer the highest levels of DHA and EPA possible and exceptional purity.
To ensure that fish oil freshness is maintained across all our products at all times, each and every batch of our Omega 3/DHA Fish Oil products are also tested by internationally accredited laboratories.
We also use sustainable sources for our fish oil products, ensuring that the population won’t be degraded so it will be available for many years to come.
Other brain boosters
While increased Omega 3 fatty acids are the best move you can make to support brain health, there are other things you can do to protect your most precious asset.
- Cut back on sugar. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia may be linked in part to elevated levels of blood glucose (studies have shown that those with type 2 diabetes have four times the risk of Alzheimer’s, while pre-diabetics have twice the risk), so eating a healthy diet that limits the intake of sugar can go a long way toward keeping both conditions at bay.
- Avoid contact with mercury. If you have amalgam dental fillings, consider having them removed. Limit your intake of fish with high levels of mercury, including mackerel, Ahi tuna, marlin, orange roughy, shark (sometime labeled as swai), swordfish and tilefish.
- Put your mind to work. Add new activities to your daily roster regularly, and if you don’t get out of the house much,try crossword puzzles or other brain teaser-type games to keep your brain muscle strong.