Brain Fuel: Why Fats are Essential for Optimal Brain FunctioningCeasar Augustus Paita
As you age, your brain health becomes increasingly important. While many of us are focused on improving our physical health, we often overlook the significance of nourishing our brains from the inside out. Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial for your overall well-being. Did you know that your brain is made up of 60% fat? And did you know that certain fats play a vital role in keeping your brain sharp and functioning optimally?
The key to maintaining your brain health is choosing the right fats. Unsaturated fats (i.e., monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) are the good, healthy fats. They provide essential nutrients your brain needs to function well and help improve cognitive function, memory, and mood. They are also needed for neurotransmitter production and myelin sheath insulation.
How Monounsaturated Fats Affect Cognitive Function
Monounsaturated fats, also known as MUFAs, found in foods such as olive oil, canola oil, avocados, and almonds, can help improve your memory and cognitive function by reducing inflammation, promoting weight loss, and increasing satiety. MUFAs include omega-7 and omega-9 fatty acids, which help to regulate cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Critical For Memory And Learning
A study published in the Journal of Neurochemistry examined how monounsaturated fats from olives and canola oils affect a variety of biochemical changes and electrical properties of cells within a brain region important for learning and memory, in comparison to polyunsaturated fats from meat, fish, and vegetable oils.
The participants followed a diet containing five percent of healthy fats and the rest were proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, fibers, and minerals. Fat profiles within their brain changed significantly after eleven months. A diet high in monounsaturated fats altered the brain’s basic chemistry and electrical properties, resulting in enhanced learning, slowed cognitive decline, and reduced Alzheimer’s disease risk.
Several studies suggest that people who had high adherence to Mediterranean-style diet, one that is rich in monounsaturated fats, had better cognitive function, reduced risk of Alzheimer’s, and slower cognitive decline than those who followed a low-fat diet.
One of the main benefits of monounsaturated fats is their ability to improve blood flow and reduce inflammation in the body. When blood flow to the brain is increased, more oxygen and nutrients are able to reach the brain, which can improve cognitive function and memory. Chronic inflammation has been linked to several health issues, including cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
Helps Lower Bad Cholesterol
In addition to their anti-inflammatory effects, monounsaturated fats can also improve cholesterol levels, which is important for brain health. High levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) have been associated with an increased risk of cognitive decline and impaired memory. The deposition of amyloid plaque in the brain due to high levels of LDL has been linked to the development of dementia. It can also lead to white matter hyperintensity, a condition where the white matter density of the brain decreases. Communication between different areas of gray matter within the central nervous system is facilitated by white matter tissue. High levels of LDL hinder this function, which leads to cognitive decline.
Production of Acetylcholine
Monounsaturated fats also enhance the release of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter critical for learning and memory. Decreased acetylcholine production in the brain may cause memory loss and Alzheimer’s-related memory problems.
Polyunsaturated Fats Help Improve Brain Function
Polyunsaturated fats, also known as PUFAs, found in foods such as sunflower seeds, soybeans, and fatty fish, play a crucial role in brain development and promoting healthy brain cell growth. Like monounsaturated fats, PUFAs also help reduce inflammation and lower bad cholesterol. They include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which are vital for cognitive function.
Maintenance of Brain Cell Membranes
Polyunsaturated fats are critical for the formation and maintenance of brain cell membranes and can help improve neurotransmitter function. These fatty acids help to maintain the fluidity and flexibility of the membranes, which is crucial for proper communication between brain cells. In fact, up to 20% of the brain’s dry weight is made up of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA).
Role in Brain Development
PUFAs are particularly important for brain development in infants and young children. Many organ systems require polyunsaturated fatty acids for their normal growth and maturation, especially the brain and eye. Some studies have suggested that low levels of PUFAs during pregnancy and early childhood may be linked to developmental delays and learning difficulties. A study conducted with animals showed irreversible visual and behavioral deficits due to lack of omega-3 supplementation. Consumption and supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids are recommended during pregnancy because they are the building blocks of fetal brain and retina. To optimize fetal health, it is recommended for pregnant women to consume at least 200mg of DHA every day. Most health care providers will recommend supplementation versus direct consumption due to the organic mercury and other harmful toxins that can be found in seafoods.
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of fat that your body can’t produce on its own. This means that you need to obtain them through your diet. Some of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and sardines, as well as flaxseeds, chia seeds, sunflower seeds, and walnuts. Several studies have shown that a diet rich in omega-3s can help support memory, improve mood, and reduce the risk of age-related cognitive decline. These essential fatty acids play a crucial role in brain function and development by reducing inflammation and increasing blood flow to the brain.
Avoid mercury and heavy metals in your omega-3s. Generally natural foods are the best way to get your nutrients. Fish is the best food source of omega-3s, but all fish has mercury. Some fish carry very high mercury levels. Unfortunately, mercury is a brain toxin that by itself can cause early onset dementia.
Improves Working Memory
Research has shown that consuming PUFAs can improve brain function and may even help to prevent cognitive decline. A study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that omega-3 supplementation improved the working memory and reaction time in healthy young adults aged 18-25. Results showed that DHA and EPA concentrations in red blood cell membranes increased substantially after six months of omega-3 supplementation. It also improved the participants’ verbal working memory.
Another study concluded that supplementation of omega-3 along with vitamin E and carotenoids improved the working memory of cognitively healthy older adults aged 65 and above. After 24 months of taking 1g of fish oil, 22mg of carotenoids, and 15mg of vitamin E, the participants outperformed the placebo group and made significantly fewer errors in working memory tasks.
Tips On Getting Healthy Fats
Including healthy fats in your diet is an excellent way to support your brain health and overall well-being. By making small changes to your diet, you can improve your brain function, boost your mood, and enjoy a higher quality of life. Here are some tips for ensuring that you are getting the essential fats into your body:
- Incorporate fatty fish, such as salmon, into your meals at least three times a week.
- Snack on nuts and seeds, such as cashews, walnuts, almonds, and pumpkin seeds, for a quick and easy source of essential fats.
- Include healthy high-fat foods such as olives, full-fat yogurt, avocados, edamame, and whole eggs into your diet.
- Use extra virgin olive oil or canola oil when cooking or making salads.
- Incorporate flaxseeds and chia seeds into your meals. For example, mix a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds into your yogurt or add a tablespoon of chia seeds to your green smoothie. You can also add ground flaxseeds to your dough before baking.
- Consider taking a potent supplement. Vivolor® Memory Support is a brain supplement that contains 10 key ingredients in improving your cognitive health — one of which is DHA. Per day, our supplement provides 2000mg of DHA, an omega-3 fish oil that is critical for proper brain functioning. Most omega-3 supplements contain only 1000mg of fish oil and only 200-250mg of DHA per day. Vivolor provides 10 times more DHA than many DHA supplements! And Vivolor is tested to ensure NO mercury despite the generous doses of DHA.
Healthy fats play an important role in promoting brain function and overall cognitive health. The brain is made up of mostly fats and relies on a steady supply of healthy fats to function optimally. Start incorporating them into your routine today and give your brain the nourishment it needs to thrive.