Brain health is largely dependent on proper nutrients
From a nutritional standpoint, it is important to understand that the brain is the center of your nervous system, and is the most energy hungry of all organs. It is nearly 60 percent fat. Almost all of the brain’s structures and functions are dependent on essential fatty acids, or EFAs. These include EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and ALA (a-linolenic acid), all omega-3s, which are abundant in such things krill oil, fish oil and algae.
In the past few years, research into the roles that essential fatty acids play in the brain has exploded. More and more, this is what is being discovered: the makeup of the cell walls in the brain (and elsewhere) is dependent largely on what you ingest. And another important discovery: Many of the brain’s functions require a balance between fatty acids.
In developed countries, particularly in the United States, we typically get nearly 40 percent of our daily calories from fat, which is superabundant in processed foods and beverages, and animal fats. The problem lies in the types of fats we’re ingesting. By some estimates, the amount of brain-fats we consume, those essential for optimal function of the brain, has declined by more than 80 percent.
Omega-6 fats are essential to health, but the typical American diet is overloaded with these, found in such foods as eggs, chicken, vegetable oils (sunflower, safflower, cottonseed, corn, hemp, etc), margarine, baked goods, cereals, and more. For optimal health, we should be consuming a balance of omega-6s and 3s, and the ideal ratio should be between 4:1 and 1:1. However, scientists now estimate that in the typical American diet the ratio is as high as 30:1. So it is important that we do something to get more omega-3s and fewer omega-6s into our systems.
Supplements such as krill oil and fish oil can help bring about this balance, in conjunction with consciously altering our diets to cut back on the number of omega-6 laden foods we eat (most processed and packaged foods). Some supplements on the market tout a balance between omega-3s, 6s and 9s. It should be obvious that we don’t need to supplement our diets with omega-6s, as we already consume too many of these. Although the label on krill oil supplements may indicate the presence of omega-6s, the amounts, less than two percent, is insignificant.
Nutrients deliver the message to the brain
Essential fatty acids also are important to the messengers in the brain and nervous system, the substances called prostaglandins. These are formed directly from essential fatty acids, and trigger responses in the cells to numerous events. For instance, if a cell encounters a bacteria, virus or toxic chemical, the cell’s fatty acids are released and transform into prostaglandins, which then trigger appropriate responses in the body. Simply stated, the problem with having too many omega-6s in the diet is that they trigger a certain type of prostaglandin (known as a messenger) that increases inflammation, a condition believed to be at the cause of many diseases. Inflammation occurs in various ways throughout the body, some apparent and some invisible. When there are too few omega-3s in the system to release their counter prostaglandins, then the omega-6s prostaglandins run rampant throughout the system.
Health professionals report that when testing the blood of some young people with developmental delays, attention deficit and hyperactivity, they have found omega-6 levels to be nearly 50 percent above normal, which would trigger inflammatory messengers. Cutting-edge health practitioners are now successfully using nutritional strategies, such as increasing omega-3s through supplementation, to modify the messengers in condition such as multiple sclerosis, ADD, hyperactivity and even schizophrenia.
Increasing blood flow to the brain
When you consume enough essential fatty acids, and in the right balance (omega-3s to omega-6s), certain other messengers called prostacyclins are affected that tend to relax blood-vessels, allowing them to provide a richer supply of oxygen to the brain. Also, when you consume far more omega-6s than omega-3s, your blood becomes thicker, sludgier. This is what your doctor means when he says your cholesterol or triglycerides are too high. Sludgy blood is now associated with depression and certain negative behaviors, with investigators finding that modifying blood fats can influence hostility and aggression.1
Supplements such as fish oil and krill oil, being high in omega-3s – with those bonded to phospholipids (which appear to make the omega-3s more available to the blood) – are known to thin the blood. This is why manufacturers of these products recommend consulting a doctor before taking them if they are already on prescription blood thinners, such as Warfarin.
Other sources of nutrients for your brain
The brain may be more subject to attack from free radicals than most organs because it consumes more oxygen than any other organ, so scientists think that it might generate more free radicals – thus need to have adequate intake of antioxidants.
So what antioxidants are needed? Vitamin E, for one. It is one of the most important of the fat-soluble vitamins, and absolutely essential for the human nervous system. Vitamin E sits nestled in the nerve cell membrane, trapping free radicals. If the body is deficient in vitamin E, the delicate acids of the nerve cells are at risk of free-radical attack. In diseases of the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s, scientists find patterns of free-radical damage.
Adequate levels of vitamin E are particularly important if one’s diet is high in essential fatty acids, because it helps the fatty acids from becoming rancid in the system. If you are eating substantial amounts of foods such as sunflower seeds, nuts, kale, mangoes and dried apricots, you are probably getting adequate vitamin E. If not – which is the case with most of us – then taking a quality vitamin E supplement is a good idea. The current recommended dietary allowance (RDA) is only 8-10IU per day. However, there seem to be no negative side effects from taking larger doses. Many suppliers sell vitamin E in 1,000IU-sized capsules.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this forum is a public service of WellWise.org, and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended to constitute personal medical advice.