Why We Need Omega-3s for Cognition and Mental Health
Research tells us that most people around the globe are deficient in long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids. In particular, it’s notable that most of us are deficient in a specific Omega-3 acid called DHA, which is essential for brain development, cognition, and overall health. What’s the big deal with Omega-3s and cognition, and how can we get more of this nutrient in our diets?
Why we need Omega-3 for cognition
Omega-3s are mostly found in seafood. Our ancient ancestors ate a lot of fish and therefore got a lot of Omega-3s in their diets. Our brains and bodies are adapted to need this nutrient, and unfortunately, most of us aren’t getting much of it on a regular basis.
There are multiple types of Omega-3 acids. One in particular that most people are lacking is DHA, which is found in certain seafood. There is a strong connection between DHA and the health of the central nervous system, which includes our brains.
Research has shown that Omega-3s are great for cognitive health. They increase blood flow to the brain, allowing for faster neurotransmitter release and improved membrane fluidity. Essentially, this means that our brains work more optimally when we get enough Omega-3s in our diet.
People who go from not getting enough Omega-3s to getting enough may experience noticeable changes in their cognition, such as improved memory. This is a huge benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked! Memory is the foundation of our cognitive functions, and an improved memory can lead to other improved abilities such as learning new skills more easily or connecting with others more effectively.
On top of that, Omega-3s can help to prevent neurodegeneration. This means that people who get enough Omega-3s are less likely to develop degenerative brain conditions such as dementia.
What happens when we don’t get enough Omega-3s?
So, Omega-3s including DHA are clearly important to include in our diet all throughout life. Research tells us that not getting enough Omega-3s can actually increase the risk of developing numerous mental health and cognitive conditions. These can include ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression, and suicidal thoughts. For healthy cognition, make sure you get enough Omega-3s in your diet.
Anyone who is pregnant or nursing should be mindful of getting enough DHA because it is vital to the healthy development of both fetus and newborn infant. Omega-3s play a big role in the development of a fetus’s central nervous system. Research tells us that most pregnant people only get around 25% of the recommended amount of Omega-3s. Not getting enough Omega-3s during pregnancy can lead to complications such as low birth weight and pre-term labor. It can also increase the risk of the mother developing post-partum depression.
How to get more Omega-3s in your diet
DHA and other Omega-3s are found in certain seafood such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, and oysters. Many people don’t enjoy the taste of these foods or don’t know how to prepare them, so they don’t eat them regularly.
If you like eating fish, that’s great! Incorporating a couple of these seafood meals in your diet each week can help you get the recommended amount of Omega-3s. If you aren’t a big fan of seafood, Omega-3s including DHA can also be taken in pill form as a supplement.
It never hurts to discuss nutritional goals with your doctor! They can help you pinpoint which nutrients your body and brain may need more of, and make a plan to get more of those nutrients in a healthy way.
Omega-3s are often overlooked, but they are such an important part of a healthy diet. They’re critical to infant development, and they play an essential role in our brain health in childhood and adult life. Omega-3s can improve our cognitive health and decrease our risk of developing mental health and cognitive conditions. We should aim to get the recommended amount of Omega-3s, no matter our age!