Get Friendly with Fish!
Well known for their health benefits, oily fish are a great source of a polyunsaturated fat known as Omega-3, as well as Vitamins A and D. Nearly two-thirds of the population do not get enough fish in their diet, or who skip eating fish altogether. If you prefer not to eat fish, berries can also provide this important nutrient. In this issue of Eat Well, Be Well we will explain the health benefits of including foods with Omega-3 in your dietary choices.
Omega 3s: The Heavy Lifter
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats that influence most of the brain’s development. They primarily contain two types: EPA and DHA. These two fatty acids are components of cell membranes and have powerful anti-inflammatory functions in the body. EPA and DHA are almost exclusively found in fatty fish and shellfish. Fatty fish include mackerel, salmon, anchovy, herring, trout and sardines. Shellfish rich in EPA and DHA include oyster, mussels and crab.
Because most people do not eat much fatty fish or shellfish, many people likely fall short of getting enough EPA and DHA in their diets. Therefore, taking fish oil may be a good option, especially for those who don’t eat much fish but are still looking to get the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids.
Infographic source: authoritydiet.com
EPA and DHA may play important roles in the developing baby’s brain. In fact, several studies have correlated pregnant women’s fish intake or fish oil use with higher IQ scores for their children. These fatty acids are also vital for the maintenance of normal brain function throughout life. They are abundant in the cell membranes of brain cells, preserving cell membrane health and facilitating communication between brain cells (Ingrid B Helland, et al, Maternal supplementation with very-long-chain n-3 fatty acids during pregnancy and lactation augments children’s IQ at 4 years of age, Pediatrics, January, 2003).
Fish Oil for Mild Memory Loss
Studies have shown that people who eat a lot of fatty fish score better on memory tests and are less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia. Animal research credited omega-3 fatty acid DHA in fatty fish (Charlene Laino, Fish Oil Supplement Boost Memory, WebMD Health News, July 2009).
Alzheimer’s disease impacts brain function and quality of life in millions of elderly adults. Finding a supplement that could improve brain function in this population would be a life-changing discovery.
Fish Oil for Depression
A recent review of clinical studies concluded that taking fish oil supplements improved depressive symptoms in people with depression, with effects comparable to those of antidepressant medications. Additionally, people tended to see greater effects when the fish oil supplement contained higher doses of EPA (R J T Mocking, Meta-analysis and meta-regression of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation for major depressive disorder, Translational Psychiatry, March, 2016). Researchers have suggested it may be related to their effects on serotonin and serotonin receptors in the brain. Others have proposed that Omega-3s from fish oil could improve depressive symptoms through anti-inflammatory effects.
How Much Fish Oil Should You Take?
There are no official recommendations regarding how much Omega-3s from fish oil you need to take to see benefits in brain function and mental health. The US Food and Drug Administration has set a safe upper limit for the intake of Omega-3 fatty acid supplements at 3,000 mg per day. The European Food Safety Authority has set their recommendation a little higher, at no more than 5,000 mg per day. Taking 1,000–2,000 mg of Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil daily is likely a good starting point, which is well under the recommended upper limit.
As always, you should inform your physician or healthcare provider before starting fish oil supplements. Because of their potential effects on blood clotting, this is especially important if you are currently taking blood-thinning medications or have an upcoming surgery.
Berries on the Brain
Blueberries are one food that is often seen on “superfood” lists, long promoted for their brain-boosting power. The link between blueberries and the brain has grown out of observations that people who eat lots of fruits and vegetables over their lifetime have a lower risk of dementia.
Scientists have found one particular class of chemicals found in plant foods, called flavonoids. A group of flavonoids called anthocyanins have been getting even closer attention because of their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Anthocyanidins are rich in berries and give these fruits bright blue, red and purple colors.
So how could the anthocyanins in berries benefit the brain? The high amounts of this antioxidant may change the way that neurons in the brain communicate in pathways involved in inflammation and cell survival, which protect the brain. More research has shown that berries can also improve cognition, motor control and enhance neuroplasticity.
Blueberries Power the Brain
An aging population means a greater number of diseases linked to older age such as dementia. There is no certain way to prevent dementia, but scientists have been looking closer at the role that blueberries can play in reducing the risk of developing it.
After 12 weeks, people drinking blueberry juice showed improvements in cognitive function and blood flow to the brain. There was also evidence suggesting an improvement on memory (Joanna L. Bowtell et al. Enhanced task-related brain activation and resting perfusion in healthy older adults after chronic blueberry supplementation; Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, July, 2017).
Blueberries may also have benefits for the brain by keeping it active during a mid-afternoon slump. In one study, volunteers who drank a blueberry smoothie in the morning did much better at mental tasks in the mid-afternoon than people who had a placebo drink. Again, it is likely the antioxidants in blueberries that stimulate the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain to help keep the mind active (David Derbyshire, “A bowl of blueberries keeps brain active in the afternoon” Dailymail.co.uk, September 2009).
Fresh or Frozen?
Fresh is great, but when they are out of season, you can replace fresh blueberries with frozen ones. As a bonus for choosing frozen, because they are processed and frozen soon after picking, the nutrient losses are small. But some studies found that dried blueberries have no impact on the antioxidant activity of anthocyanin extracts.
Tips for Adding Blueberries to Your Diet
- Add fresh blueberries when you are baking desserts, such as muffins or banana bread.
- Add blueberries as your topping of choice to your favorite breakfast cereal.
- Sprinkle blueberries over a green salad, then drizzle with olive oil and vinegar.
- For an almost-instant blueberry sauce, microwave fresh, frozen or drained canned blueberries with a spoonful of your favorite jam. Serve warm over frozen yogurt or sorbet.
- For a big blueberry hit, a blueberry smoothie is the way to go!
Start the Day with a Blueberry Smoothie
Most of us are familiar with the classic mid-afternoon slump. It feels like an energy drain and brain fog that is unavoidable. But in a research study, volunteers who drank a blueberry smoothie in the morning did much better at mental tasks in the mid-afternoon than people who had a placebo drink. Why not give it a try with this simple recipe that includes frozen blueberries?
Blueberry Breakfast Smoothie
About Our Nutritionist, Shelly Xu
Shelly Xu manages Poppy Life Care’s Nutrition Program, which offers general nutrition information, instructional tips and recipes for healthy foods to improve behavioral health. Shelly has a background in traditional Chinese medicine and combined modern and traditional Chinese medical therapy in the treatment of neuro-system diseases and psychiatric diseases while serving as a Resident Doctor in the Nanjing Brain Hospital in China. She conducted nutrition analyses for CKE Restaurants Holdings in California, and received her Master’s degree from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Chapman University.
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The information presented is offered for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be construed as personal medical advice. Please consult with your family’s personal physician/caregiver regarding your own medical care.
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