For many years, medical researchers have studied so-called "smart fats" that promote the health of the human brain and delay or even prevent dreaded Alzheimer disease. Most of the testing has been on either older people or those with medical problems - until now. Thanks to a University of Pittsburgh study
, it is now known that the brains of healthy young people, ages 18-25, can also benefit from supplementation. This healthy brain fat is none other than omega-3 oils, which are known as "essential" fatty acids because they're not naturally produced in the body but must instead come from diet.
Pittsburgh Study Specifics
For a six month period, young adults from many ethnic groups were given Lovaza, an FDA approved omega-3 supplement. The participants initially had their blood analyzed and they submitted to a PET (positron emission tomography) image which uses radiation to survey the brain. They were also given an "n-back" test which measures memory and is often used in clinical studies. During the six months of the test, the young people were monitored and then re-tested. The results proved that this age group absolutely can enhance their memory through the use of omega-3 supplementation which is amazing, according to Bita Moghaddam, project investigator and professor of neuroscience. "We found that members of this population can enhance their working memory performance even further, despite their already being at the top of their cognitive game." Omega-3 fatty acids are especially critical to the brain and a deficiency has been associated with mental and emotional problems such as depression, dementia and even schizophrenia. Lack of these oils is related to brain shrinkage and inflammation but an ample supply helps the brain cells to communicate with each other and keeps the cell membranes fluid and pliable. It's important to note that the study was not 100% successful because researchers had hoped to identify the exact way in which the omega-3 supplements enhanced the brains of their young test subjects but their results were disappointing as they couldn't positively identify this process. They are certain, however, that the brains of younger and older people work differently.
Where Can I Get Omega-3s For Myself?
It's very difficult to get enough omega-3 from plants. Plant omega-3 is in the form of alpha-linolenic acids (ALAs) which are short chain forms of carbon and the human body needs the long form variety known as eicosapentaenoic acids (EPAs) and docosahexaenoic acids (DHAs). We can biologically convert the ALAs but our bodies just aren't very good at it and most of it is lost. That's why animal sources are more efficient because they've already done the conversion for us. The best sources are fish that live in cold waters, like salmon, bluefin tuna, sardines, anchovies and mackerel. There is a problem with these fish, however, because they may be loaded with deadly toxins like mercury. Shellfish and algaes like chlorella, spirulina and blue-green algae are also rich sources of the ALAs. Free range or pasture-fed animals, whether cows, sheep or goats, have higher levels of omega-3s. That's because they eat grasses rather than corn which is higher in omega-6s than the important omega-3s. Many markets offer eggs that are higher in omega-3 fatty acids because the farmers feed their hens the fish and algae mentioned above, or the hens scratch in the dirt eating insects. If you're seeking a plant source, flax seed oil is the best source of ALAs but its benefits are best when it's freshly ground. The whole seed passes through the body and the pre-ground oil begins to quickly deteriorate and turn rancid. Walnuts are high in omega-3s as is wild rice which is a grass, rather than a grain.
Superior Brain Function Throughout Your Life?
One of the most encouraging conclusions of the Pittsburgh study is that by receiving adequate omega-3 throughout life, beginning at a young age, brain functioning may be higher than it would have been without this vital oil. The Pittsburgh staff believes that their research might help young brains to maximize their full potential throughout their lives, an exciting prospect indeed.