Some fish are rich sources of beneficial oils, called omega-3 fatty acids. They are of different types with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) being the two major types. Fish oil is often procured from either eating fish or fish oil supplements. Fish rich with omega-3 fatty acids are salmon, tuna, Herring, and mackerel.
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved several fish oil products as prescription medications used to treat high levels of triglycerides. Fish oil supplements are also used to improve mental and heart health. People often take omega-3 and fish oil supplements because of the health benefits they provide.
The omega-2 fatty acids play a positive role in feral development, eye health, brain protection, and heart health.
However, there is not enough evidence that confirms the usefulness of the supplements.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Fish Oil
It is proved through different studies that fish oil is beneficial for mental and brain health. These benefits are due to the presence of polyunsaturated fats, called omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil. DHA and EPA are their two forms. DHA and EPA have strong anti-inflammatory properties and play important role in heart health and human development.
These two omega-3 fatty acids are mostly consumed in the form of fish oil or fatty fish. Since the recommended amounts are not often consumed by people, they fall short of obtaining enough DHA and EPA in their diets.
Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is a different form of omega-3 fatty acids. It is found in soybean oil, canola oil, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and walnuts. The human body can convert it into DHA and EPA, but not at a rate that is less than 10 percent, which is not efficient.
Therefore, to get the omega-3 health benefits, the best option is to take fish oil if someone cannot eat enough fish.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids and the Brain
The role of omega-3 fatty acids is vital for normal brain development and functioning in every stage of life.
- Both DHA and EPA are considered important for brain development in babies. There are different studies that have correlated the fish oil or fish intake of pregnant women with their children achieving high scores in brain functioning and intelligence tests in childhood.
- They help maintain normal and unhindered brain function.
- They facilitate brain cell communication and help preserve the membrane health of cells.
- Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids in animal diet led to decreased DHA amount in the brain. This resulted in a deficit in memory and learning. Similarly, in adults, it can lead to smaller brain size. This indicates increased brain aging.
It is clear that consuming the needed amount of omega-3 fatty acids is essential in order to avoid certain brain problems.
Fish Oil and Memory
Omega-3 fatty acids are nutrients mostly obtained from fish oil. They support brain health and its functioning, which also comprise memory and thinking.
Researchers have done analyses that have associated high fish intake with a low rate of decline in memory and less risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Researchers have done studies to analyze and compare the brain functioning and memory of people eating different amounts of fish in their diet. They concluded that people with comparatively high fish intake had a younger brain and were at lesser risk of having Alzheimer’s disease.
In the MIND diet, it is important to have one or more fish meals a week. This diet has proved helpful in decreasing cognitive decline caused by age.
But the point to be considered is that according to research eating fish is beneficial for memory, not fish oil supplements. So far, studies have not been able to prove the benefits of fish oil supplements in terms of preventing Alzheimer’s or slowing down cognitive decline.
Which is the Best Choice: Fish, Fish Oil Supplements, or Just Omega-3 Sources?
There are multiple types of research that prove that eating fish to get fish oil is the most beneficial and effective way to get its health benefits. It is advised to adults to eat almost 8 ounces or two 4-ounce servings of Seafood a week.
Although this recommendation is a good target and suitable for overall health, the brain will benefit even if a person is taking one serving a week instead of two.
According to research, people who eat fish at least once a week experience comparatively less cognitive decline than people who eat fish occasionally. Also, the risk of getting Alzheimer’s is 60 percent less in people who eat one fish meal a week than people who do not eat fish at all.
So, the question that arises is that are fish oil supplements beneficial?
Overall, the studies and research support eating fish more strongly than taking fish oil supplements. The trials done with fish supplements are inconclusive, and more trials need to be done to determine the benefits and suitability of the supplements.
DHA and EPA
The researchers consider fish to be complicated because the real DHA and EPA found in fish are different than those present in the supplements. This means that the way they are packaged in fresh fish supports more effectiveness than in supplements.
All types of fish contain some amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish contains high levels of DHA and EPA. Seafood and fish that are the best fish oil sources include:
The preferred cooking method for fish and seafood is grilling, broiling, and baking rather than deep frying. From a study, it was concluded that the loss of gray matter in certain regions of the brain that govern learning and memory was less in cognitively healthy people who had at least one broiled or baked fish meal in a week than non-fish eaters.
In case a person cannot add fish to their diet, they should eat plant-based foods that have high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. These foods include:
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
- Canola oil
These plant-based foods provide alpha-linolenic acid. It is transformed into other more useful forms of omega-3 fatty acids. It is not a very efficient process, so it is preferred to eat foods that contain DHA and EPA.
People who do not eat fish are recommended to eat a specific amount of alpha-linolenic acid every day. The preferred amount of daily intake for adult males is 1.6 grams and for adult females is 1.1 grams.
It should be noted that an omega-3 supplement cannot overcome or fix an unhealthy diet.
Fish Oil and Brain Fog
The term ‘brain fog’ is used to describe fuzzy or slow thinking. Fish oil helps a person to think clearly, but only if the person has omega-3 deficiency to start with.
According to a study that included 300 healthy women aged between 18 and 35, it can be concluded that individuals with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids scored comparatively low in the cognitive tests done to measure their attention, then individuals with mid to high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Although the lowest cognitive score achieved fell in the normal range, it can still be concluded that their brain functioning was not at its optimum level.
From a study, it was found that individuals with high levels of inflammation suffered a sharp decline in their cognitive abilities as they age. Omega-3 fatty acids possess anti-inflammatory properties. This means that they can stop or prevent the free radicals from damaging the brain which causes aging and diseases. This effect can influence the functioning and firing of neurons and improve memory and attention by influencing dopamine pathways.
But due to the lack of any strong evidence to support the concept of fish oil helping with brain fog, it cannot be considered conclusive.
Side Effects of Fish Oil
In general, consuming fish oil is considered safe when taken in low doses and by mouth. The dose per day should not be above 3 grams. Safety concerns arise when it is consumed more than recommended. That is only done under medical supervision.
- It can reduce blood clotting, increasing the risk of bleeding.
- It can reduce the functioning of the immune system which lowers the body’s infection-fighting ability.
Some other fish oil side effects are:
- Loose stool
- Bad breath
The Bottom Line
DHA and EPA are two forms of omega-3 fatty acids present in fish oil that are helpful in brain development and functioning.
People suffering from declining brain function or depression are advised to take omega-3 fatty acids, to help improve their brain function and reduce symptoms.
Unfortunately, it is found through research that fish oil does not help to treat Alzheimer’s disease. It shows no effect or change in people with a normal functioning brain.
The starting dose of omega-3 fatty acids is preferably between 1000 and 2000 mg. It is essential to not exceed the daily dose above 3000 mg.
Although heart health is the common benefit associated with fish oil, it is also incredibly beneficial for mental and brain health.