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omega-3s for brain health: couple eating breakfast in kitchen

Study Shows Omega-3s Are A Must For Long-Term Brain Health

Even if you’re health nut status is more “beginner” than “total biohacker,” you probably know that omega-3s are a big deal. These healthy fats—particularly two types, called EPA and DHA—are a big reason the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating eight ounces (that’s about two servings) of fish per week, as well as why fish oil is one of the most popular supplements in America. Most people associate omega-3s with heart health, but these well-researched fats have also been linked with impressive immune, skin, gut, and brain benefits. They’ve even been found to play an important role in supporting a healthy mood.

Adding to their ever-growing resume, scientists are continuing to churn out research on omega-3s—and one of the most recent analyses shines a new light on how omegas impact our brain.

A New Look At Omega-3s And The Brain

Recently published in the journal Neurology, this new analysis takes a look at the relationship between omega-3s and a couple of different markers related to brain health. While plenty of previous research has dug into the omega-brain relationship, many of these studies have focused on older people (think age 67 and up). Given how many health concerns related to cognition and brain function crop up in these later years, it makes sense. This new study, though, shifted the focus to middle-aged people (think around 46 years old) to better understand how omega-3s impact our health before we hit our senior years.

Here’s what went down: A group of researchers pulled data from the Framingham Health Study, which launched in 1948 and has since followed over 14,000 people across three generations (original participants, their children, and their grandchildren) in order to study cardiovascular health and its relationship with the entire body. Their goal? To investigate any links between participants’ blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids and brain MRI measures (like the size of certain brain regions and matter), as well as markers of cognitive function (like processing speed, memory, and abstract reasoning). Though all of this data has been available, researchers hadn’t looked into any possible connections in middle-aged people—until now.

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So, what did the researchers find? First of all, they identified a connection between higher levels of omega-3s and a large hippocampus, the region of the brain that plays a huge role in learning and memory. They also linked more omega-3s with better abstract reasoning, which is basically our ability to think about anything theoretical. (Understanding metaphors and using frameworks like the scientific method to solve problems are examples of abstract reasoning.) 

This is important information to have because other research suggests that omega-3 consumption may not be as impactful for brain health and function later in life, when many cognition concerns are already causing trouble, the study authors suggest. So, this analysis gives us reason to believe that getting ample amounts of omega-3s in midlife is a solid way to preserve brain health before it’s too late. In short, omega-3s are like an insurance plan for your brain.

The Takeaway

Pretty exciting stuff, right? Just note that while this research highlights some significant connections, more studies will have to be done to confirm that omega-3 consumption actually causes these changes. 

Read More: What You Should Know About Omega-6s

In the meantime, consider these results a good reason to get your fill of healthy omega-3s. Many experts recommend aiming for 250 milligrams of EPA and DHA combined per day, which comes out to 1,750 milligrams per week. For reference, just three ounces of salmon offers around 1,500 milligrams of these important fats, which is why sticking to that “two servings of seafood per week” is a simple way to cover your bases. Don’t like fish? Here are six other ways to get more omega-3s onto your plate.

Of course, you can also up your intake via omega-3 supplements, whether you opt for a classic fish oil or an algae-based supplement (did you know that fish actually get their omega-3s from algae?). Since certain groups of people—including those with heart health concerns and pregnant and breastfeeding women—need extra omega-3s, check in with your doctor or a nutritionist about whether you’re getting enough, and how you can up your intake if you’re missing the mark.

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