Still think fat is the enemy?
Despite the bad press fat has gotten over the years, it is a vital nutrient that should not be avoided. Not all types of fat deserve to be kept in the dark.
Some fats are essential to human health, such as Omega-3. Found at an abundance in oily fish, Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to contribute to incredible health benefits, particularly for cognition.
In fact, Omega-3 fatty acids are one of the most thoroughly studied nutrients in research, for many positive reasons.
What are Omega-3’s all about? How can Omega-3 fatty acids act as a nootropic?
We’ve got it all covered.
What are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?
Omega-3, or n-3, classifies a group of unsaturated fatty acids that are found naturally in certain food sources. The body cannot naturally produce omega-3’s, which is why it is important to include them in your diet – via supplementation or food.
Omega-3s are unsaturated, meaning they have a unique chemical structure with double bonds between the carbon atoms.
There are three main types of Omega-3 fatty acids that are beneficial for human health:
- Eicosapentaenoic Acid: Usually abbreviated as EPA, this particular omega-3 fat exerts anti-inflammatory effects on the body, reducing pain and the risk of disease development.
- Docosahexaenoic Acid: Commonly known as DHA, this particular fatty acid is essential for brain development and cellular protection.
- Alpha-Linolenic Acid: Or ALA, this fatty acid type must be converted in the body into EPA and DHA to serve a biological function. ALA is the most common type that is found in nuts, seeds, and other unsaturated-fat-rich foods.
Are all Omega-3s equal?
You can find Omega-3’s in various food sources and supplements, but not they are not all the same. Plant food sources of Omega-3’s are often rich in ALA, compared to fish containing EPA and DHA. Thus, the ratio and the type of Omega-3s found in food can vary significantly.
This is the same with supplements. If you are looking for an Omega supplement to boost brain health, search for a formula that contains a higher amount of DHA, and also contains a spectrum of other fatty acids to promote overall health and wellbeing.
On the other end of the spectrum, ALA is the least efficient in the body, as it requires a conversion into DHA or EPA in order to have a biological role. According to research, this conversion is quite low in adults, particularly when ALA is converted to DHA (1). On average, only 0.5-1% of ALA is converted to DHA, and only 1-10% of ALA is converted to EPA.
Thus, if you are looking to boost your health and turbocharge your brain power, your best bet is going with a DHA/EPA supplement. But what roles do they have on brain health? Do they have differences in health benefits?
DHA VS EPA
You may have heard about the power of Omega-3 fats on brain health, but do all Omega-3 fatty acids serve the same function?
Short answer, no.
The ratio of EPA/DHA in supplements and food varies significantly. Most have higher EPA to DHA content, as EPA is cheaper to manufacture. This means the action of the supplement may vary significantly depending on which fatty acid is more abundant in the mixture.
Specifically looking at EPA and DHA, both fatty acids have been researched to function in unique ways to benefit your body’s health systems.
While both EPA and DHA are essential for optimal health, DHA and EPA have notable differences with regards to health benefits:
As a standalone fatty acid, DHA has been shown to promote cognitive function more effectively than EPA. In fact, DHA is the main omega-3 fat found in the brain.
DHA’s role on brain health can be clearly established by looking at the fatty acid’s clear role in childhood development.
DHA is absolutely essential for cognitive development of the fetus in pregnancy, and also during childhood. DHA is also necessary for visual development in infants. Due to DHA’s role on brain and eye development in babies, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers must ensure they are achieving adequate DHA levels.
Achieving adequate DHA levels is also vital for memory, focus and behavior. Long-term DHA deficiency in childhood has been linked to ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), which causes impulsive behavior and concentration issues. This often develops into ADD in adulthood.
Therefore, taking supplemental DHA or consuming higher DHA foods can help improve attention and concentration, as seen in a recent review of literature (2).
So, we’ve established a clear connection between DHA and brain health in childhood. But what about in adulthood and the elderly population? Yet again, DHA is a winner here. Another fascinating health benefit of DHA on cognition is it’s direct role on memory function (3). In research, DHA consumption reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 60%, in adults over the age of 65 (3).
Additionally, not having enough DHA can contribute to depression, anxiety and irritability, as DHA is required for the production of feel-good hormones such as serotonin in the body.
Bottom line is, DHA has been shown to be required at a higher rate for cognitive development and function, by improving neuro-signaling and promoting brain cell regeneration.
On the other end of the spectrum, EPA has been researched to benefit the body by targeting and reducing inflammation. EPA produces signaling molecules called eicosanoids, which are responsible for EPA’s anti-inflammatory effects.
While we know DHA is the brain-dominant fatty acid, EPA is also important for optimal cognitive health.
EPA can indirectly support cognitive function and mental health by reducing inflammation that causes depression and degenerative disorders.
Thus, EPA works alongside DHA to fight inflammation to protect the brain. EPA has more notable effects on heart health and joint health, due to this anti-inflammatory effect.
Benefits of Omega-3 as a nootropic
Your brain is 60% fat. Makes sense to take a quality Omega-3 supplement to maintain and boost your brain health, right?
Ensure you are taking a good ratio of DHA/EPA Omega-3 as a nootropic boost.
To summarize, these are the benefits of Omega-3 supplementation when taken for nootropic effects:
- DHA is required for brain cell signaling. Additionally, DHA is essential for cellular repair and regeneration.
- DHA can support memory retention and reduce the risk of degenerative cognitive disorders.
- DHA plays a role on neurotransmitters that improve mood and relaxation.
- DHA can turbocharge concentration, focus and working speed to give you that extra edge to increase productivity.
- EPA is an anti-inflammatory fatty acid, that can reduce the risk of inflammatory neurodegenerative conditions that can hinder brain performance.
- EPA has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in research studies.
While an Omega supplement may not be your first choice as a nootropic, there are many reasons why taking a high-quality DHA/EPA supplement can boost your brain health.
Omega-3s are essential nutrients that the body requires for a variety of reasons. DHA and EPA have clear roles in brain development, disease prevention, and overall health and wellbeing. If you are seeking a potent all-round nootropic and health booster, taking an Omega-3 supplement that is higher in DHA can work wonders to increase your brain power.