Want Optimum Brain Health? Eat More Fish

The body can synthesize most of the fats it needs from your diet; however, omega-3s are different. They’re considered “essential” fatty acids because the human body requires them for good health but cannot make them on its own. Simply put, omega-3 fatty acids are essential.
-University Health News

Ask any expert. Omega-3 fatty acids are required for the health of your body and mind—but the body can’t naturally produce them. A mountain of research supports their benefits almost to the point of calling them miraculous. At a basic level, they help protect your heart and blood vessels. In addition, they have terrific preventive merits like reducing your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, osteoporosis, diabetes and even cancer. Thus, omega-3 fatty acids are very good for your body.

Just as important, they are good for your mind. Studies have shown beneficial results for persons who have depression, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and other mental, emotional and neurological conditions. Conversely, inadequate levels are linked with lower intelligence.

Most important types

Omega-3 fatty acids are chains of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms. While there are several types, the three most important for human well-being are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). While each of these serves various functions, DHA is “…absolutely vital for brain development and function in childhood, as well as brain function in adults.”i

Without getting too technical, DHA plays a key role in the function of neuronal membranes. Neurons, or nerve cells, are highly specialized because they transmit the electrical impulses that communicate information from one neuron to another. Each neuron encapsulated in an incredibly thin membrane that acts as an electrical insulator, yet is also contains protein structures that are electrically active. Scientists now recognize that “…there a highly specific requirement for DHA in the neuronal membrane” that make DHA indispensable for the transfer of electrons from one neuron to the next.ii This keeps the brain functioning at optimum levels, and in fact, DHA counteracts the effects of aging on the brain.

Eat more fish

The best way to provide your brain with DHA is through dietary sources. Especially fish. However, not all fish are equally high in omega-3 fatty acids that contain DHA. The types of fish especially rich in DHA are salmon, tuna, sardines and mackerel. Currently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines suggest eating at least 8 ounces of fish per week. However, an article in the December 2018 issue of Brain & Life magazine points out that it’s highly important to avoid fish known to contain mercury.iii Research has repeatedly shown that exposure to mercury or mercury vapor is an environmental risk factor for essential tremor.iv Therefore, Brain & Life offers the following recommendations:

  1. Avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish (sometimes called golden bass or golden snapper) which contain high levels of mercury.
  2. Aim to eat up to 12 ounces a week of a variety of fish or shellfish low in mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollack and catfish.
  3. Limit consumption of canned albacore (“white”) tuna to once a week. It has more mercury than canned light tuna.
  4. Check local advisories about the safety of fish caught in the U.S.v

While there do not yet appear to be published studies on DHA and essential tremor, a 2016 paper presented the results of DHA administered to mice that had the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. The authors found that “…DHA has protective effects on dopaminergic neurons [the neurons that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine]” and thus reduced the movement disorder symptoms.vi

To sum up, eating fatty fish (salmon, tuna, etc.) gives the brain its indispensable DHA as a component of the omega-3 fatty acids contained in the fish. DHA is an investment in a well-functioning brain. Even if DHA does not have a direct impact on ET, the brain needs all the problem-solving and mood stability it can muster to cope with the daily stress of living with ET. The bottom line is this: if you want your brain to be the healthiest it can be and age well, eat more fish.

i“The Three Most Important Types of Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/3-types-of-omega-3
iiDyall S. Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Front Aging Neurosci. 2015;7:52.
iii“Eat Fish Wisely.” Brain & Life, Dec. 2018/Jan. 2019, pp. 7-8.
ivJiménez-Jiménez FJ, de Toledo-Heras M, Alonso-Navarro H, Ayuso-Peralta L et al. Environmental risk factors for essential tremor. Eur Neurol. 2007;58(2):106-13.
v“Eat Fish Wisely,” ibid.
viOzkan A, Parlak H, Tanriover G, Dilmac S et al. The protective mechanism of docosahexaenoic acid in mouse model of Parkinson: The role of hemeoxygenase. Neurochem Int. 2016 Oct 27.

About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Neurosurgery Associates.

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