If you are committed to proper exercise and nutrition, then you have probably heard of Fish Oil supplements before. Fish oil comes from the tissues of oily fish, such as tuna, cod, and salmon, containing omega-3 fatty acids. More than fish, omega-3 is found in chia, flax, hemp, purslane, English walnuts, and algae. Fish oil is sometimes considered a “brain food” by its takers because it has helped people with their cognition from conditions such as ADHD or Alzheimer’s disease.
Omega-3s are classified as essential fatty acids. They are “essential” because our bodies cannot produce these substances alone, so we must ingest them in our foods and supplements. However, when talking about omega-3, it’s important to learn about its counterpart, omega-6. Both work in two opposite but healthy ways if balanced correctly, yet American diets tend to have higher amounts of omega-6 than omega-3, in such products as corn and sunflower Oils.
According to Dr. Simon Evans, the author of BrainFit for Life, a User’s Guide to Life-Long Brain Health and Fitness, omega-6 is inflammatory, signaling to the body’s immune system to turn on, while omega-3 is anti-inflammatory, helping to signal to the immune system to turn off. Each works to communicate to the body what hormones should activate (omega-6) or deactivate (omega-3). This process is vital for when nutrients and oxygen enter our brains.
Some animals, who are without sufficient omega-3s, suffer from low amounts of serotonin and dopamine, two essential chemicals for regulating our moods, such as happiness and motivation. Even on SPECT scans, people with bipolar disorder who had mood fluctuations because of the higher activity in their brains, tended to have less brain activity when they took omega-3. Their moods were more stable because their over-active brain signals were calmed down.
For omega-3, there are three main types of healthy but hard-to-pronounce fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Our bodies convert ALA into DHA and EPA, a process that helps us to sustain healthy functioning. Dr. Ronald Hoffman, an active clinician and author, says that DHA acts as a building block for tissues in our brains to form neurotransmitters like phosphatidylserine. Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid compound that makes up an essential part of cell membranes, particularly those in our brains. It acts in improving memory and concentration, reducing the risk of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, and preventing stress and anxiety.
The neuroscientist and best-selling author, Dr. Daniel Amen, sees omega-3 as crucial for benefiting the brain. In his list, Seven Simple Brain Promoting Nutritional Tips, Dr. Amen recommends this fatty acid, because “DHA, one form of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, makes up a large portion of the gray matter of the brain.” He goes on to say, “The fat in your brain forms cell membranes and plays a vital role in how our cells function. Neurons are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.”
Not only are omega-3s beneficial for our brain health, EPA and DHA convert into hormone-like substances, which act to aid and regulate cardiovascular functions. Many intervention trials have shown that these two fatty acids can work to prevent cardiovascular diseases, such as from lowering a person’s blood viscosity and cholesterol ratios. In a MRFIT study, people who had taken up to 700 milligrams of DHA/EPA a day reduced their risks for having coronary disease mortalities.
In another study, published in the journal, Lancet, researchers looked at what effects pills, such as fish oil and vitamin E, did to those who recently suffered from heart attacks. There were over 11,000 subjects participating. Each had a heart attack within three months of the trial. This study found, after 42 months, that those who took the fish oil pills (omega-3) significantly reduced their chances of cardiac death. This may be due to the anti-inflammatory effects of this fatty acid.
Just as with omega-3, omega-6 has important fatty acids, like Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA). GLA is found in egg yolks and vegetable oils. According to the site, Cancer.org, some studies have suggested that, GLA has slowed down or stopped certain cancer cells from forming, but these same studies recommend treatment options before this one. However, GLA has helped people with many conditions such as skin allergies, diabetes, obesity, rheumatoid arthritis, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
While omega-6 is usually known for promoting inflammation, GLA may actually lower it. If GLA is taken as a supplement, it could convert into another fatty acid called, dihomo-gamma-linolenic acid (DGLA). DGLA is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, especially when the person taking it has consumed enough nutrients, like magnesium.
Although there are many health benefits of ingesting omega-3 and omega-6, people should be careful when taking these fatty acids. It’s recommended that people should not take fish oil pills before a major surgery and diabetics should check with their doctors before consuming daily.
Dr. Daniel Amen, the neuroscientist and author, in his book, Magnificent Mind at Any Age, says that too much fish oil (15 grams or more daily for a prolonged time) can have side effects, like fishy breath, burping, diarrhea, nausea and halitosis. Too much fish oil may even cause an occasional bloody nose due to blood thinning effects. However, there have been no serious negative effects yet with taking omega-3 or omega-6. Pregnant women can take fish oil, as can people with bi-polar disorder, for improving the composition of breast milk and for regulating mood.
Dr. Daniel Amen, the neuroscientist, and author, in his book, Magnificent Mind at Any Age, says that too much fish oil (15 grams or more daily for a prolonged time) can have side effects, like fishy breath, burping, diarrhea, nausea, and halitosis. Too much fish oil may even cause an occasional bloody nose due to blood thinning effects. However, there have been no serious negative effects yet with taking omega-3 or omega-6. Pregnant women can take fish oil, as can people with bipolar disorder, for improving the composition of breast milk and for regulating mood.
Too much fish oil may even cause an occasional bloody nose due to blood thinning effects. However, there have been no serious negative effects yet with taking omega-3 or omega-6. Pregnant women can take fish oil, as can people with bipolar disorder, for improving the composition of breast milk and for regulating mood.
According to the Linus Pauling Institute, the adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids for adults over 19 years is 1.6 grams (males) and 1.1 grams (females). Infants (up to 6 months) can take .5 grams daily. For omega-6, adults from 19 to 50 years should take 17 grams (for males) and 12 grams (for females). Infants should have 4.4 grams, children 10-11 grams, and adolescents, 16 grams (males) and 11 grams (females).
If consumed responsibly for even a short time, omega-3 and omega-6 can improve the quality of our health, providing us with essential supplements for our lives, yet it is always important to consult a doctor if there are any worries about the potential effects and to see if these fatty acids are right for you.
1. Evans, J. Simons. BrainFit for Life – A User’s Guide to Lifelong Brain Health and Fitness. River Pointe Publications; 1st edition. September 15, 2008.
2. Evans, J. Simons. Omega-3 and Brain Health: Your Questions Answered. 2003-2010. Website: DepressionToolKit.org.
3. Hoffman, Ronald. What are EPA/DHA? 2004. Website: drhoffman.com
4. Amen, Daniel. Seven Simple Brain Promoting Nutritional Tips. 2005. Website: Creatvityatwork.com
5. Amen, Daniel. Magnificent Mind at Any Age. Crown Archetype; 1 edition. December 2, 2008.
6. Higdon, Jane. Drake, Victoria. Jump, Donald. Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Information Center: Essential Fatty Acids. 2003-2012. Website: lpi.oregonstate.edu
7. The Lancet. Effect of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in patients with chronic heart failure (the GISSI-HF trial): a randomized, doWeb. 21 June 2012. Website: omega6.wellwise.org/omega-6-benefits