The simple secret to a youthful brain at any age

If a single daily supplement could help to keep your brain “young” by keeping your memory sharp and your white matter intact–wouldn’t you want to take it?

I think it’s safe to say that most people would. Which is why I’m always telling you to put a quality fish oil at the top of your shopping list. And why I want to share the results of not one, but two new studies with you today.

The first study found that omega-3s might put the brakes on cellular aging in elderly people facing cognitive decline. More specifically, DHA was linked to longer telomeres.

Telomeres are the strands of DNA that cap and protect your chromosomes. They shorten with age and ongoing cell division, which leaves chromosomes vulnerable and contributes to disease.

So needless to say, we’re always looking for ways to keep telomeres intact longer. Because longer telomeres ultimately translate to a longer lifespan.

Unfortunately, telomeres are also highly susceptible to damage from free radicals. This is one of the reasons that oxidative stress accelerates aging in all its forms–and that includes brain aging.

This study featured 33 cognitively impaired subjects over age 65. The researchers assigned them to three groups. For six months, one group took 1.5 grams of the omega-3 EPA. A second took 1.5 grams of DHA. And the third group took 2 grams of omega-6 fatty acids.

At the end of the study, subjects with increased DHA levels benefited from the most telomere protection. And as anyone could have predicted, subjects in the omega-6 group showed the most reductions in telomere length.

High omega-6 intakes fuel inflammation, which can have disastrous consequences for your body. So these results don’t surprise me at all.

And neither do the results of the second omega-3 study I want to tell you about…

Results of another new study showed that high blood levels of omega-3s can lower the risk of brain abnormalities associated with dementia in old age.

And you’ll never guess where this one was published. None other than the Journal of the American Heart Association. (Shocking, isn’t it?)

Whereas the study I told you about above looked at telomere length, this study looked at the link between plasma phospholipid omega-3 PUFAs and abnormal brain MRI findings.

I’m also pleased to point out that this study used a clear biomarker of omega-3 status, as opposed to measuring something like fish consumption, like past research on the subject.

Researchers followed more than 2,000 elderly subjects for a total of five years. And as it turns out, those with high omega-3 levels benefited from a 40 percent lower risk of brain infarcts. (Which can boost risk of dementia, stroke, and cognitive decline.)

What’s more, subjects with high omega-3 status had better preserved brains overall–as marked by fewer white matter changes. (These alterations are what trigger memory loss with age.)

And this brain protection was particularly pronounced among older men and women with high levels of DHA. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), on the other hand–which is a plant-based omega-3–had much less marked of an effect. Enough so, in fact, that it was considered non-significant.

Which brings me to a caveat that I’ve been warning about for years: You simply can’t get the omega fats you need from plants. And that’s especially true as you get older and begin lose the enzyme responsible for converting plant-based ALA into DHA. (The form of omega-3 that’s actually useful, as these results show.)

So please don’t supplement with ALA to get your essential fatty acids. And while you’re at it, toss out that bottle of “omega 3-6-9,” too.

Trust me on this one. We get enough omega-6 fats. The typical Western diet is packed with them. They’re practically in the air that we breathe at this point.

You certainly don’t need to supplement with them.

You do, however, need more omega-3 and omega-9. Fortunately that’s an easy fix. Get at least 3,000 mg of EPA/DHA from fish oil daily. And eat more omega-9 rich fats from foods like avocado and macadamia nut oil.

It’s a critical change. But it couldn’t be simpler.

“Telomere shortening in elderly people with mild cognitive impairment may be attenuated with omega-3 fatty acid supplementation: A randomised controlled pilot study.” Nutrition. Available online 3 October 2013.
“Circulating omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and subclinical brain abnormalities on MRI in older adults: the cardiovascular health study.” J Am Heart Assoc. 2013 Oct 10;2(5):e000305.