Omega-3 Fatty Acids To Save Your Brain Health

Omega-3 fatty acids contribute significantly to the health of the brain, by decreasing inflammation and oxidative stress, fostering the growth and maturation of neural cells, improving brain function and development, enhancing memory, and alleviating depressive symptoms.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids To Save Your Brain Health

Key Takeaways

Omega-3 Brain Benefits

1. Cognition and Memory

Omega-3 fatty acids enhance brain function in individuals with memory issues like Alzheimer's or mild cognitive impairments. Fish oil supplements improve memory and learning in older adults with age-related cognitive decline.

2. Depression Alleviation

Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements improve depressive symptoms, showing effects similar to antidepressant medications. The mechanism may involve impacts on serotonin levels or anti-inflammatory properties.

What Are Omega-3s?

Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fat that contributes significantly to the health of the brain.

Fish oil mainly contains two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA.

These fatty acids are vital components of cell membranes and possess potent anti-inflammatory properties within the body. Additionally, they are renowned for their crucial roles in human development and cardiovascular health. [1]

In human diets, EPA and DHA are found almost exclusively in fatty fish and fish oil. Since the majority of people do not consume the recommended quantities of fish, many individuals likely do not obtain sufficient amounts of EPA and DHA through their diets.

The human body can produce EPA and DHA from another omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA can be found in various food sources, such as walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, canola oil, soybeans, and soybean oil.

However, humans have limited efficiency in converting ALA to EPA and DHA, with research indicating that less than 10% of the consumed ALA transform into EPA or DHA. [2]

As a result, fish oil supplementation might be a viable option, particularly for individuals who do not consume much fish but still wish to obtain some of the health advantages associated with omega-3 fatty acids.

The Science Behind Omega-3 And Brain Health

Studies indicate that omega-3 fatty acids can promote brain health by decreasing inflammation and oxidative stress, fostering the growth and maturation of neural cells, and improving neurotransmitter function. [3]

Additionally, they may contribute to maintaining the blood-brain barrier, shielding the brain from harmful substances in the bloodstream.

EPA and DHA, two omega-3 fatty acids, are crucial for proper brain functioning and development across all life stages. They appear to play significant roles in a developing baby's brain. [4]

Several studies have demonstrated that pregnant women with higher fish consumption or fish oil had better intelligence and brain function test scores for their children during early childhood. [5]

These fatty acids are also essential for maintaining normal brain function throughout one's life. They are found in high concentrations in brain cell membranes, preserving membrane health and enabling communication between brain cells. [4]

For older adults, reduced DHA levels in the blood were associated with smaller brain size, an indication of accelerated brain aging. [6]

EPA and DHA generate molecules called "resolvins" for their capacity to "resolve" inflammation. DHA also produces NPD1 molecules, which possess anti-inflammatory properties in the brain. [7]

Ensuring an adequate intake of omega-3 fatty acids is vital to prevent some adverse effects on brain function and development.

Omega-3 And Memory

Omega-3 fatty acids can enhance brain function in individuals with memory issues, such as Alzheimer's or other cognitive impairments.

Alzheimer's disease is the most prevalent form of dementia, affecting the life quality of millions of older adults. Discovering a supplement that could improve brain function in this group would be a significant, life-altering breakthrough.

Several studies have proposed that fish oil supplements may improve brain function in people with milder brain conditions, such as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or age-related cognitive decline. [8] These conditions are not as severe as Alzheimer's disease but still cause memory loss and occasionally impaired brain function.

One study provided 485 older adults with age-related cognitive decline with DHA or a placebo daily. After 24 weeks, those taking DHA performed better on memory and learning tests. [9]

In another study, researchers examined the effects of consuming omega-3s from fish oil supplements daily for 24 weeks. They observed improvements in brain function for people with MCI. [10]

Omega-3 And Depression

Discovering treatments for depression and other mental health disorders remains a public health priority, with a growing interest in non-pharmaceutical interventions to alleviate symptoms. Many believe fish oil is associated with mental health improvements, but does the research support this idea?

A recent review of clinical studies determined that fish oil supplements enhanced depressive symptoms in individuals with depression, exhibiting effects similar to those of antidepressant medications. [11]

It's worth noting that people tended to experience better results when the fish oil supplement contained elevated levels of EPA.

The mechanisms by which EPA and omega-3s alleviate depressive symptoms remain uncertain. Some researchers suggest it could be related to their impact on serotonin and serotonin receptors in the brain.

Others propose that omega-3s from fish oil might improve depressive symptoms through their anti-inflammatory properties. [12]

Additional evidence indicates that fish oil may benefit other mental health conditions, such as borderline personality disorder [13] and bipolar disorder [14].

Best Sources of Omega-3

You can get high amounts of omega-3 fats from fatty fish, algae, and several high-fat plant foods. The following sources are rich in EPA and DHA:

  • Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring are excellent sources of EPA and DHA.
  • Fish oil supplements: If you can't consume fatty fish regularly, fish oil supplements can be a convenient alternative.
  • Algae oil: For those adhering to a plant-based diet, algae oil is a vegan-friendly option that contains DHA and EPA.
  • Walnuts: While not as potent in EPA and DHA as other sources, walnuts contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body can convert into EPA and DHA.

Should You Take Omega-3 Supplements?

Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for optimal brain health and should be consumed regularly. However, specific individuals may need to take supplements to ensure sufficient intake.

For instance, vegetarians, vegans, or those who don't consume fish might not obtain enough omega-3 fatty acids from their diet alone, making supplementation a sensible option.

Others who could benefit from omega-3 supplements include those with a family history of stroke, heart disease, or high cholesterol; individuals with a history of hypertension or elevated triglyceride levels; and those with cognitive disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer's disease, or ADHD.

It is vital to consult with a healthcare provider before starting any supplements.

Safety And Side Effects

Fish oil supplements are generally safe for the majority of people. Pregnant women and children may also safely use them, provided the doses are recommended by a healthcare professional. The FDA has classified dietary fish oil as GRAS (generally recognized as safe). [15]

Possible side effects may include heartburn, nausea, and diarrhea.


Omega-3 fatty acids are vital for optimal brain function, growth, and development. They also play a significant role in reducing inflammation throughout the body.

If you are struggling with depression or experiencing a subtle decline in cognitive abilities, omega-3 could help you.

Numerous studies have shown that supplementing with fish oil can improve mood, mental clarity, and overall brain function.

Incorporating these powerful fatty acids into your daily routine will unlock a new level of mental well-being and resilience.

Additional Readings

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[1]Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA: health benefits throughout life - PubMed (

[2]Can adults adequately convert alpha-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) to eicosapentaenoic acid (20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (22:6n-3)? - PubMed (

[3]Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation and oxidative stress parameters: A systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials - PubMed (

[4]Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA - PMC (

[5]Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children's IQ at 4 years of age - PubMed (

[6]Red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid levels and markers of accelerated brain aging - PMC (

[7]Resolvins D1, D2, and other mediators of self-limited resolution of inflammation in human blood following n-3 fatty acid supplementation - PubMed (

[8]Effects of ω-3 fatty acids on cognitive performance: a meta-analysis - PubMed (

[9]Beneficial effects of docosahexaenoic acid on cognition in age-related cognitive decline - PubMed (

[10]The effects of omega-3 fatty acids monotherapy in Alzheimer's disease and mild cognitive impairment: a preliminary randomized double-blind placebo-controlled study - PubMed (

[11]Meta-analysis and meta-regression of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for major depressive disorder - PMC (

[12]Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Depression: Scientific Evidence and Biological Mechanisms - PMC (

[13]omega-3 Fatty acid treatment of women with borderline personality disorder: a double-blind, placebo-controlled pilot study - PubMed (

[14]Omega-3 fatty acids for bipolar disorder - PubMed (

[15]GRAS Notices (

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