The Importance of Omega-3 Fatty Acids for Brain Health
There is no disputing the evidence of omega-3 fatty acids having a major role in supporting brain health and cognitive function, particularly as we age.
While the brain only accounts for ~2% of total body mass, it utilizes “20 percent of your body's energy” and functions as one of the most complex organs in the body.
A significant portion of the fatty acid content in the brain is known as ‘PUFA’ or long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Given their large abundance in the brain, it makes all the more sense that they play a critical role in how brains develop in infancy, through adolescence, and into old age.
In particular, the PUFA known as DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), plays an important role in supporting normal cognitive function.
Algae Oil: An Important Vegan Omega-3 Supplement
Would you be able to get enough of this nutrient and fatty acid through food?
No. The body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids like DHA on its own. It can convert ALA to DHA, as we discussed previously in our blog post on the importance of algae oil. However, as we touched on there, this process is not very effective. The prefrontal and frontal lobes of the brain – which are responsible for emotional, social and behavioral development, rely on optimal DHA levels.
While ALA is found in abundance in plant-based foods like flax, chia seeds, hemp, walnuts, and kale – the quantities are not sufficient enough to warrant gorging on these filling foods just to get a modest intake.
DHA can be obtained through seafood like wild salmon. However, those who are vegan or plant-based won’t consider this a viable option.
Others may want to avoid seafood and fish due to valid concerns of contaminants and environmental pollutants, like dioxins or mercury. The NPR article on microplastics contaminating seafood refers to the sea as our “toilet,” for example.
That leaves algae oil products, like Earth and Elle’s, as the only sustainable, safe, and environmentally friendly way to ensure you get enough omega-3 fatty acids for optimal brain health.
DHA’s Role in Cognitive Function
Out of all the omega-3 fatty acids contained within the body, DHA contributes to more than 90 percent of the PUFA content in the brain, notably in the gray matter. While EPA can be considered important for arterial health and reducing inflammation, DHA is the primary omega-3 required for supporting the brain.
Earth & Elle’s Vegan Omega-3 supplement contains a therapeutic amount of 1,000 mg DHA per 2 capsule serving size.
Research clearly reaffirms the importance of omega-3 in the diet. It reduces the risk for neurodegenerative diseases and conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. DHA appears to reduce amyloid plaque formation, which is implicated as the primary driver of Alzheimer’s Disease.
As no commercial pharmaceuticals have yet been identified to treat Alzheimer’s Disease, everyone should be focused on reducing risk factors, especially as they age. DHA is noted in reducing chronic inflammation. Inflammation is also implicated in the pathology of many neurological disorders.
In one study, “24-week supplementation with 900 mg per day of DHA was found to improve learning and memory functions in age-related cognitive decline.”
This isn’t a lone example. You can do a very quick Google search and come across any number of studies or research papers that clearly show how important DHA and omega-3 fatty acids are to brain health, learning, and supporting behavioral function.
The Importance of DHA for Children
Mothers might be curious about supplementing DHA with their kids.
Childhood is an important (critical) stage of brain growth and development. In studies, low DHA brain levels were implicated in abnormal brain function and impaired learning capabilities.
In babies, DHA is required for visual function and cognitive development. Usually, intake of DHA among younger children is exceptionally low. Studies show improvements in learning, behavioural development, and visual acuity with omega-3 supplements – namely DHA.
A Word from Earth & Elle
Whenever you make the choice to purchase an omega-3 DHA supplement, you’ll want to ensure you choose a product that is third-party laboratory tested and free of contaminants, like Earth & Elle’s Algae Oil.
Generally, algae oil is considered to be much safer than conventional seafood and fish oil. While fish oil won’t contain the same levels of mercury as fish, they are still prone to environmental contamination, microplastics, dioxins, and pollutants. None of these are documented in vegan algae oil.
Algae oil also lacks the cholesterol present in omega-3 fish oil. Cholesterol is considered to have negative dietary consequences, especially for those with cardiovascular health issues, or a history of high cholesterol.
While our bodies do require some cholesterol for proper hormone production, these can be synthesized from dietary intake of plant-based fatty acids. You do not need to consume endogenous cholesterol from animal products.
Another big benefit to algae oil over fish oil – no fishy aftertaste, or odor!
While researchers are still inconclusive on a definitive amount of omega-3 fatty acids like DHA to take per day for optimal health, most experts recommend around 900-1000 mg DHA per day. This is for those avoiding the consumption of eight pounds fatty fish per week.
Omega-3 supplements, like ours, are exceptionally well-tolerated.
We would only recommend consulting with a healthcare professional if you have any pre-existing medical conditions involving blood clotting medication such as Warfarin. Fish oil and algae oil are both known as natural anticoagulants, reducing the ability of blood clots to form and slowing blood clotting time.