Brain Function and Omega-3

Omega-3 in the form of DHA (or docosahexaenoic acid) makes up over 30 percent of the cell membrane in the cells that make up the brain. The permeability and flexibility of DHA allow the receptors as well as messengers sent through the cell wall to do their jobs properly. The permeable cell membrane, through a process called active transport, also pumps sodium ions out of the cell and potassium ions into the cell. This transfer sets up a charge difference which is used to transmit electrical impulses.

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Yet another vital role for DHA: it activates pathways used by BDNF (which stands for Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). BDNF is a protein that influences the growth, preservation, and differentiation of neurons and synapses. In this regard BDNF is essential to maintaining higher thinking and long-term memory. Government studies have shown that if levels of omega-3 intake are increased after brain injury that it will greatly reduce the debilitative effects on learning and brain function in general. The conclusion states: "These results imply that omega-3 enriched dietary supplements can provide protection against reduced plasticity and impaired learning ability after traumatic brain injury." 1

Along the same lines 2000 - 3000 milligrams intake of fish oil has been shown to help prevent and reduce the effects of both Parkinson's Disease and Alzheimer's Disease. With Parkinson's the problem is the death of neuro-transmitters that produce dopamine, which in turn help control muscles. Because omega-3 and BDNF protect the cells, it is hypothesized that a diet rich in omega-3 or its supplementation can be beneficial to people with Parkinson's or with Parkinson's risk factors.2

There is some dispute about how effective intake of omega-3 fatty acids are with regard to Alzheimer's disease. However, in general, balanced levels of omega-3 have been shown to reduce the incidence of Alzheimer's in mice.3 Here again the mechanism seems to be the protective effects of omega-3 (in the form of DHA).

In many cases omega-3 works in conjunction with omega-6. However, too much omega-6 has negative effects in that it increases inflammation, and can counter some of the positive effects of omega-3. Most people already receive large amounts of Omega-6 in their diet.


  1. Government Study of Omega-3 and BDNF
  2. Science Daily
  3. Web MD

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