The Richmond Register

February 16, 2014

Omega-3 Fats Boost Brain Size

Dr. Jack Rutherford
Special to the Register

RICHMOND — A new study in the journal Neurology has reported that consuming omega-3 fats can increase brain volume.

The study measured blood levels of omega-3 fats in more than 1,000 elderly women and found that eight years later their brain volumes, as measured by MRI scans, were significantly larger among those with the highest levels of the heart-healthy fats.

Researchers also found that the bigger brain volumes were notably larger in the hippocampus, a region of the brain that houses memory. Loss of volume in this key brain area can result in dementia and the development of Alzheimer’s.

Earlier studies have shown that omega-3 fats contribute to heart health by lowering trigylcerides. They also improve rheumatoid arthritis, depression and other medical conditions.

The best sources of omega-3 fats are fish oil, wild-caught salmon and other oily fish (particularly bluefish, mackerel, herring, tuna, sardines and anchovies), flaxseed, other oils including olive oil, flaxseed oil, canola oil and soybean oil, and omega-3 enriched eggs.

Salmon is the king of omega-3 fats because it contains the two most important types of omega-3 fatty acids -- EPA and DHA. Actually, farm-raised salmon is fattier than wild caught salmon; however, it offers less usable omega-3s and contains far more pesticides.

Sticking with wild-caught salmon will get you all the benefits without all the chemicals. For best results, consume fish at least twice a week.

Other oils such as olive and canola can easily be incorporated into your diet. Use them for cooking, salad dressing and even as a substitute for margarine or butter. Try adding a tablespoon or two to vegetables (like broccoli, onions, carrots, potatoes, cauliflower and/or asparagus) and roasting them in the oven as a healthy side dish.

Both flaxseed and flaxseed oil are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed can be easily added to your breakfast oatmeal or whole-wheat cereal. It also makes a great addition, along with blueberries, to a smoothie or post-workout protein shake.

Omega-3 enriched eggs are another great source and can be found at most grocery stores. Swap them for regular eggs and get seven times the amount of omega-3s.

Despite the fact that omega-3 fats are essential building material for your brain, most Americans, especially children, have woefully insufficient intakes. The food industry is becoming more aware of the importance of omega-3s and so you are now seeing more of the healthy fats added to other foods including peanut butter, milk, orange juice, spreads, yogurt, cereals, bread and cheese.

Because these “food additives” provide very little omega-3 fats for the added cost, I would save my money for the foods that offer plentiful amounts of DHA and EPA naturally, like salmon.

Omega-3 fats are essential to overall health and should be incorporated into the diet. Your brain and your heart will thank you.