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Reel in Some Fish Oil

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Reel in Some Fish Oil

Although best known for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease and arthritis, one of the hottest areas of omega-3 fatty acid research is related to brain health and behaviour.

Although best known for the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease and arthritis, one of the hottest areas of omega-3 fatty acid research is related to brain health and behaviour.

Researchers have known for decades that the brain itself is 60 percent fat, and that omega-3 fatty acids play a critical role in both nerve cell structure and function. But it wasn’t until the mid-1990s that the first research suggested the lack of dietary omega-3 from fish might influence mood.

Cast Away Your Blues

In his landmark study, Dr Joseph Hibbeln of the US National Institutes of Health reported that nations consuming higher amounts of fish and seafood had the lowest rates of depression. Psychology Today (May/June 1996) suggested fish oil was the “Prozac of the Sea.”

Hibbeln’s work was supported by more studies showing that fish consumption is associated with protection against bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, and seasonal affective disorder. A review in the journal Lipids in Health and Disease (2004) reported that a number of studies show fish oil supplements can help improve mood and diminish anxiety.

Hook Yourself a Sharp Mind

The relationship is not limited to mood; exciting research has shown similar associations between fish consumption and protection against mental decline. In a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2003), adults aged 63 to 74 were followed for four years and those with the highest blood omega-6 levels at baseline had the highest risk of subsequent cognitive decline. In contrast, having a high omega-3 level was protective.

In another study published in Neurology (2004), marine omega-3 consumption was associated with a reduced risk of impaired cognitive function in middle age. After researchers found a 60 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s in those consuming fish at least once per week, an editorial in the Archives of Neurology (2003) suggested it’s time to make dietary fish recommendations for brain health.

Feed Your Children Well

In order to ensure a healthy mind throughout life, it is important that adequate omega-3 fatty acids be taken in early life. Childhood behavioural and learning disorders are associated with low levels of omega-3 fatty acids. The good news is that children are particularly responsive to fish oils.

At least two studies show benefit in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and a large UK study published in Pediatrics (2005) showed that performance of underachieving children, some of whom were disruptive, dramatically improved after fish oil supplementation. Specifically, those in the fish oil group had nine to ten months of improvement in reading in just three months compared to controls.

It’s no fish story: consuming fish oil provides many benefits for both your heart and your mind.

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