We’ve known for quite some time the countless benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which occur naturally in foods like fish, meat, eggs, nuts, and seeds. And, both professionally and personally, I can never stop recommending incorporating adequate amounts of omega fatty acids in your daily diet—especially considering the fact that we, in the Western world, tend to have misbalanced amounts of these brain-boosting nutrients. But now, just in time for the start of Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness month, two new studies have come out further linking a connection between omega-3s and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease. And I’m excited to fill you in!
To break things down, the brain is an interconnected web of parts, with each section aging at its own pace. Because of this, certain parts of the brain tend to age faster than others, occurring at earlier ages. One of the two studies analyzed the frontoparietal network of the brain, which plays a key role in fluid intelligence, or one’s ability to solve problems, use logic and identify patterns. This area of the brain tends to decline at an earlier age, even in individuals who possess healthy eating and lifestyle habits.
The other study looked at the area of the brain known as the fornix, a C-shaped bundle of nerve fibers located in the very center of the brain that plays a role in memory recall. Earlier studies have found the fornix to be one of the first areas of the brain affected by Alzheimer’s disease.
In both studies, researchers analyzed the blood of adults ages 65 to 75 and looked for patterns of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), key inflammation fighters. They were looking at the relationship between the patterns of these nutrients and the subjects’ brain structure, as well as their performance on cognitive tests. While previous studies have analyzed how brain patterns are affected by certain polyunsaturated fatty acids, they typically only focused on one or two. These studies, however, are taking a close look at how the entire group of polyunsaturated fatty acids affect brain structure.
The first study, that analyzed the frontoparietal network of the brain, found connections between the blood levels of three omega-3 fatty acids—ALA, stearidonic acid and eicosatrienoic acid—and the subjects’ fluid intelligence. Additionally, they found that the subjects with higher levels of these three omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had a larger left frontoparietal cortex, which also impacted the subjects’ fluid intelligence.
The results of the second study found that a good balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the blood was associated with a larger fornix, which impacts one’s ability to recall memories.
Pretty interesting right? The takeaway here is that the more polyunsaturated fatty acids you have in your diet (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in particular), the stronger your brain health and the lower your chances are of having Alzheimer’s later in life.
Now here are some of the best PUFA-containing foods to add to your diet:
Eggs: Eggs are a great place to start, thanks to their high omega-3 fatty acids content. This good fat helps lower blood triglycerides and keeps cholesterol levels down.
Olive oil: The ingredient oleocanthal is a major inflammation buster.
Fish: Omega-3’s are not only great for your skin, but are especially effective at reducing swelling! Some top omega contenders would be mackerel, salmon, herring and tuna. Sardines are also a great option.
Avocados: Who doesn’t love an excuse to eat more of this creamy, green superfood? Avocados are the holy grail of anti-inflammatory nutrients, containing lutein, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, vitamins C and E, selenium and zinc and omega-3 fatty acids.
Nuts and seeds: Think walnuts and almonds, chia and flaxseeds, hemp seeds and hazelnuts. They all contain large amounts of omega-3s.
Leafy veggies: Kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, etc., all contain ALA as well as plenty of other vitamins and nutrients, such as fiber.