Boosting Brain Health With Omega-3 – The Science Explained

Omega-3 fatty acids sourced from both plants and animals provide vital protection from oxidative damage while encouraging development at all stages.

Study results confirm earlier research indicating that those with higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA had greater success on tests that require abstract reasoning skills.

Plant Sources

Fish oil is one of the best-known sources of omega-3s. This over-the-counter supplement is extracted from fatty fish such as sardines, anchovies, mackerel and salmon and provides important sources of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids, both essential components for maintaining brain health and function.

Researchers have reported that including fish oil in your diet can significantly enhance mental functioning and lower the likelihood of depression or other mood disorders. Omega-3 fatty acids may also aid in treating attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), a behavioral condition commonly found among children and adolescents.

People who regularly consume fish have been shown to enjoy larger brain volumes in later life, which may help delay Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases. Unfortunately, it remains unclear whether omega-3 alone helps protect against cognitive decline; other nutrients found in fish such as vitamin D could play a part. Therefore, further research must be conducted in this area.

Animal Sources

Omega-3 fatty acids are an essential nutrient, meaning they must come from either diet or supplements in order for your body to produce it itself. Studies have demonstrated omega-3’s beneficial impact on various aspects of health including mental illness like depression.

Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), the main omega-3 fatty acid found in vegetable oils and nuts and seeds like walnuts, flax seeds and chia seeds; green leafy vegetables; as well as animal fat from grass-fed animals is one source. Two other omega-3s EPA and DHA can also be found primarily in fish oil products.

Plant sources like ALA must be converted by our bodies into EPA and DHA for consumption, and some people are better at doing this due to genetics than others. People of Chinese, Japanese, or Hispanic descent often possess FADS1 genes with lower activity that limit conversion of ALA to EPA/DHA conversion; such individuals may depend more on diet-derived sources of Omega-3 to meet their needs than individuals with less active FADS genes.


There is mounting evidence that omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon and trout, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), are beneficial to brain health, particularly during gestation and early childhood development. DHA plays a particularly pivotal role in brain formation during pregnancies and early years.

Eicosapentaenoic Acid, or EPA, is another essential omega-3 fatty acid found in plant sources and converted to DHA within the body. Supplements containing both DHA and EPA may help improve memory and cognitive performance.

B vitamins, particularly Vitamin B6, have long been recognized for their benefits to brain health; however, getting enough from food sources alone can be challenging.

Dietary supplement markets targeting brain health and cognitive performance are rapidly growing into multibillion dollar industries. We recently examined products marketed for these purposes and discovered many do not live up to their claims; furthermore, some contain undeclared ingredients which increase risk of adverse reactions.


Diet is an integral component of brain and overall wellness. For optimal brain health and overall wellbeing, your diet should contain a wide variety of food sources that contain the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA.

Recent research indicates that those who consume more fish have higher concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood and cerebrospinal fluid, possibly helping delay brain cell loss associated with age and decreasing dementia risks.

Fatty fish such as salmon, trout and sardines provide essential omega-3 fatty acids; while berries provide high concentrations of antioxidants that support healthy aging and memory function. Other brain-healthy foods include whole grains, nuts, berries and dark chocolate (which contains flavonoids and caffeine). Limit added sugars and processed carbohydrates by opting for plant-based fats such as olive oil and chia seeds which provide plant-based sources of folate, vitamin K and lutein that are found within these foods that provide essential brain nutrients like folate, vitamin K and lutein.

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