I do tend to go on and on about taking fish oils supplements and my newsletter was going to be all about brain health and fish oils but I was sidetracked by research that has been published extolling the virtues of fish oil supplements with regard to breast cancer prevention. Though further study needs to undertaken it is an interesting observation.
In NZ breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women and more than 2,600 women are expected to be given such a diagnosis this year. Men are not immune either, although it is fairly rare in the male population, but around 20 men will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year. So that’s another good reason to take fish oils.
Ministry of Health/NZHIS (April 2010). www.moh.govt.nz
Many of are probably aware of some of the benefits associated with good quality fish oil supplements such as:
Improve cardiovascular health (irregular heartbeat, blood clotting, hardening of the arteries, high blood pressure)
Lower cholesterol and triglycerides (blood fats)
Encourage anti-inflammatory prostaglandins
Assist with structural integrity and flexibility of sperm to achieve fertilisation
Assist with weight loss
Ensure good brain and eye development in the foetus and newborn
Aid cancer prevention
Let’s get back to our brain! It has become evident that even as adults we can grow new brain cells – good news for most of us! The human brain is composed mostly of fat and most of that is DHA or di.................... It makes good sense to replenish our stores of DHA rather than consume fats that actually contribute to the killing off of brain cells. Good quality fish oils can defeat free radicals that destroy brain cells, decrease responses in the immune system that trigger cell damaging inflammation and alter the way neurotransmitters (chemical messengers), behave and even change the physical structure of the actual brain cells or neurons.
A neuron is a fascinating cell made of a round body and nucleus (back to school chemistry!), with a single nerve fibre (axon), and many branch like structures called dendrites, that process messages and send them to the axon where those all important neurotransmitters are stored. When these neurotransmitters are released messages are conveyed across the synapses or cell junctions from one axon to another in a flurry of biochemical electrical activity. This is how our brain cells chat constantly to each other and affect our mood, memory and overall intellect.
All cells, and we have around a hundred trillion of them, need a membrane that is flexible enough to allow nutrients in and toxic waste out, but firm enough to contain the minute factory housed within in each cell. This is particularly important in the brain as the membrane of neurons must be pliable and constantly fluctuating to receive the messages flying across the synapses at lightning speed. The more synapses we have in the brain and the better they communicate, all contributes to increased brain function – even more so than the number of brain cells we have! Here’s where fish oil comes in, one of the most important building blocks for synapses is DHA.
DHA also appears to encourage higher levels of the “feel good” neurotransmitter serotonin. Low levels of serotonin are linked with depression, suicide, impulsive and even violent behaviour, alcoholism and even some cravings. Good levels regulate mood, sleep, appetite, impulses and reduce anxiety.
Saturated fats are the fats responsible for making the cell membrane hard and inflexible. Sat fat even contributes to stunted neuron growth and slower learning and intellectual ability. Remember this next time you are considering that drive through for a quick meal!
As with all things in life it is about balance and aiming to obtain the correct ratios of fats is of prime importance. As our brains evolved during prehistoric times the amount of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids in the diet would have been about equal with a little saturated fat, today the ratio has ballooned to around 20 parts omega 6 to one part omega 3 with ever increasing amounts of saturated fats. Our brains are not geared up to cope with this imbalance so aiming for a ratio of 4 parts omega 6 to 1 part omega 3 will help to redress this imbalance.
What should you do?
- Aim to decrease saturated fats, omega 6’s and Trans Fatty Acids.
- Aim to increase monounsaturated oils and omega 3’s.
Saturated Fats:butter, cream, palm oil, coconut oil, fried foods and takeaways, fat on meat, skin on chicken, full fat dairy, deli meats, commercial cakes, biscuits pastries and confectionery.
Omega 6 Polyunsaturated Fats:sunflower, safflower, soy bean, sesame, cottonseed and grapeseed oils, pine nuts and Brazil nuts.
Trans Fats:margarines and fat spreads (check labels), deep fried fast food, commercial baking – check for the words hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated on labels. Note that if vegetable oil is stated it means they do not have to specify which oil has been used.
MonounsaturatedFats:Olives and olive oil, avocados, peanuts and peanut oil, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecan nuts, cashews and almonds.
Omega 3 Polyunsaturated Fats:Oily fish – herring, sardines, mackerel, salmon and tuna, walnuts, linseed and linseed oil (also known as flaxseed). When it comes to fish the smaller the better as they have had less time to accumulate toxins such as mercury, PCB’s etc.
Of course there is more to brain health than just fish oils – here are a few more things you can include in your life to be as brilliant as you can be!
Increase your antioxidant and vitamin intake – think brightly coloured fruit and vegetables
Increase dark oily fish meals
Add some nuts to your day especially walnuts, almonds and 2 Brazil nuts
Reduce sugar intake
Minimise processed and take away foods
Reduce intake of meat
Exercise REGULARLY physical exercise is great for the brain on many levels but so too is mental exercise try getting dressed in the dark, taking a different route to work, mix up your walking routes, do crosswords or Su Do Ku puzzles, learn a new language or skill and keep up and make new social contacts – have some fun!