How do Omega-3 Fatty Acids Protect against Brain Disorders?
We continually hear of health risks associated with a high-fat diet. Health experts admonish us continually to cut fat from our diets. Food labels shout from the grocery shelves that they are “fat-free” or “low-fat”. It’s no wonder that fat has a bad reputation. We believe that all fats are harmful. On the contrary, some fats are absolutely vital to good health. The truth is that fat is a nutrient and in moderation, plays an important role in the body’s growth and energy levels. Such fats are known appropriately enough as essential fatty acids (EFAs).
Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) are considered essential because they are the only fats that the body cannot manufacture. They must be obtained from the diet. The American diet is said to be woefully unbalanced. It is too high in Omega-6 and too low in Omega-3. Omega 3 or linolenic acid is critical to brain function. Supplemental essential fatty acids providing increased amounts of linolenic acid seem to help reduce the “resting hand tremors’ that trouble people with Parkinson’s disease. In Parkinson’s disease, part of the brain is either damaged or destroyed.
Parkinson’s disease is caused by the progressive death of the neurons responsible for producing dopamine, a neurotransmitter closely linked with movement control. The disease is usually diagnosed when 50 to 80% of these neurons are already dead, and there is currently no medication to stop that process.
A new study claims to be the first evidence that omega-3 fatty acids protect the brain from Parkinson’s disease. Researchers say the omega-3 fatty acids – in particular DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), a specific type of omega-3 – replaced the omega-6 fatty acids already present in the brains of mice in their study. A brain with a lot of omega-6 fatty acids may be a fertile ground for Parkinson’s disease, they write.
Findings of a research team from The Universit Laval (Quebec City) show the possibility of preventing the disease or potentially slowing down its progression. The researchers observed that when mice were fed an omega-3 rich diet, they seemed immune to the effect of MPTP, a toxic compound that causes the same damage to the brain as Parkinson’s. “This compound, which has been used for more than 20 years in Parkinson’s research, works faster than the disease itself and is just as effective in targeting and destroying the dopamine-producing neurons in the brain.”
By contrast, another group of mice that were fed an ordinary diet developed the characteristic symptoms of the disease when injected with MPTP, including a 31% drop in dopamine-producing neurons and a 50% decrease in dopamine levels. Researchers suggest that the protective effect against Parkinson’s comes essentially from DHA.
The researchers conclude “Our results suggest that this DHA deficiency is a risk factor for developing Parkinson’s disease, and that we would benefit from evaluating omega-3’s potential for preventing and treating this disease in humans,”
Omega-3s are found in oily fish such as mackerel, herring, tuna and salmon, with the exception of smoked salmon and lox, which lose most of their healthy fat during processing. For people who don’t like fish, fish oil supplements are recommended.
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