Your brain needs specific nutrients—including omega-3 fatty acids—in order to function properly. When you’re deficient in those nutrients, it might affect your ability to remember things, learn, etc. There may be mental health implications as well, so it’s important to make sure you treat your brain well.
Omega-3s can affect brain health in a few ways, which are explained below.
Omega-3s and Brain Health
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to support brain development and cognitive function. One type of omega-3 called DHA is particularly important, with DHA levels being 250 to 300 times higher in the brain than EPA (another type of omega-3). Omega-6 fatty acids also have a strong presence in the brain, but most people get enough of those in their diet normally.
Since DHA is so plentiful in the brain, it is considered vital to early brain development, most of which occurs between the ages of 5-6. The frontal lobes—which handle conscious reasoning—are especially dependent on DHA.
As such, omega-3s have been linked to cognitive health, particularly when it comes to memory. Mild memory problems may result from an omega-3 deficiency.
3 Ways Omega-3s May Benefit Brain Health
Given how dependent your brain is on omega-3 fatty acids, it follows that taking an omega-3 supplement with DHA can help you improve mental and cognitive health. However, the results are typically limited—in most cases, omega-3s help only when there is some deficiency, such as if you have memory problems. Omega-3s don’t usually add any benefits if your brain already functions properly.
With that said, here are some potential ways your brain could benefit from omega-3s.
1. Support Brain Development
As already mentioned, omega-3 fatty acids are essential to early brain development. In fact, the amount of these fatty acids infants get can have a dramatic impact, with large bodies of research indicating that DHA-rich formula may help support brain development. Intake of omega-3s from breastfeeding mothers can also support healthy cognitive growth.
2. Improve Ailing Memory
If you experience memory problems, “brain fog,” etc., you may benefit from increasing the amount of omega-3 you take. While a healthy brain generally won’t get extra benefits from taking more omega-3s, studies do show a correlation between increased intake and improved cognitive function in those with mild issues. One review found that those who experience cognitive impairment with no dementia had improved attention, recall, and processing speed. Again, healthy subjects were not affected.
That said, these benefits seem to be limited only to mild forms of memory loss. Alzheimer’s and dementia appear to be unaffected by increased omega-3 intake. However, omega-3s may help prevent or delay the onset of dementia, as indicated in a recent review. This review showed that omega-3s may benefit those who are in the early stages of the disease, though data is inconsistent once the disease has advanced.
3. Potential Benefits for Mood and Personality Disorders
Finally, there is some evidence suggesting that omega-3s can help manage mood and personality disorders, particularly depression. A meta-analysis of 13 studies showed that there appears to be a correlation between higher omega-3 intake—particularly supplements rich in EPA omega-3s—and reduced symptoms of major depressive disorder. This suggests that omega-3s may be an effective way to manage depression symptoms.
Other mental disorders may not benefit as much (if at all) from omega-3s, particularly bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and ADHD. While some studies show that there may be some benefits, the data so far is fairly inconsistent.
That said, omega-3s are still important for your brain, and sufficient intake may help prevent the development of cognitive disorders.
Common Signs of an Omega-3 Deficient Brain
Omega-3 deficiency is fairly common, especially in western cultures that tend to eat less fish. Additionally, vegan and vegetarian diets are often light on essential fatty acids. Your body doesn’t produce omega-3s on its own, so they need to be provided through your diet.
If your brain is deficient in omega-3s, it may manifest itself in the form of memory loss, mood swings, and depression. Other common symptoms include:
- Dry or irritated skin
- Dry eyes
- Joint pain
- Hair changes
- Poor circulation
- Heart problems
Since omega-3s are present in all cells in your body, getting enough in your diet is an essential part of maintaining optimal health.
FAQs on Omega-3 and the Brain
How long does it take for omega-3s to improve brain function?
It’s not instantaneous. Cognitive changes from omega-3s occur on a scale of months or years, not days or weeks.
Does omega-3 boost mood?
Omega-3s have been shown to have a positive effect on mood disorders over time.
How do I get enough omega-3?
Omega-3s can be added to your diet through certain foods, most famously oily fish high in DHA and EPA. Flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts can provide ALA (another omega-3), which your body can process into DHA and EPA, albeit not very efficiently. Algae and seaweed are far better vegan/vegetarian options for DHA. Supplements containing high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids are also an effective source, including fish oil alternatives like Dr. Ohhira’s Essential Living Oils.
Fish Oil Alternatives from Essential Formulas
Supplements can be an effective way to get the omega-3s you need. Dr. Ohhira’s Essential Living Oils, a fish oil alternative, is an excellent option that can help you support nervous system function and overall positive health. To learn more, contact Essential Formulas.