Every profession has its tried-and-true secrets of the trade. And those of us in the alternative medical industry (I honestly can’t believe we’re still considered “alternative”) have relied on DHA to support brain health for years.
It’s the brain’s most abundant polyunsaturated fatty acid. And it is responsible for maintaining both signaling pathways and the structural integrity of your synapses. In other words, DHA is absolutely essential for your brain.
Personally, I have always used DHA in my pediatric patients to help with attention problems, learning disorders, and the like. And my older patients all take it, too — mostly because it’s the omega-3 companion to EPA, and you’ll find it in every good fish oil supplement. (Which, as you know, I recommend to everyone.)
But it turns out that DHA offers some pretty impressive protection for older brains, too. Which makes a lot of sense when you think about it — though it’s something I never fully considered until reading the study I want to share with you today.
This was an admittedly small study of a cross-section of older people in good cognitive health. But it found that seniors with higher blood levels of DHA scored better on memory tests, and had better physiological brain-health markers.
More specifically, researchers observed that people with lower DHA levels had more brain shrinkage than those with higher levels. And serum DHA levels were nearly a quarter lower in subjects with amyloid plaque buildup compared to those without the plaques. I think you’ll agree that this, in and of itself, is remarkable. (Amyloid plaques are among the distinguishing hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.)
Still, the researchers suggest that it could be that DHA levels are merely an indication of better overall health — and not necessarily that it acts directly on amyloid itself. That’s one reason why they stop short of recommending DHA supplementation for prevention… suggesting instead that doctors start asking patients about their fish consumption instead.
I certainly can’t disagree with that. Eating fish is good for you, simple as that. Two to three servings a week boosts your heart health, and protects your brain’s delicate network of blood vessels. At least, it does as long as it isn’t farm raised and is caught responsibly — which can be tough to determine these days. But it’s very important.
You should also stay away from bigger fish that tend to be loaded with mercury.
Large fish like king mackerel, shark, tilefish and swordfish have the highest levels of mercury, so it’s best to limit your consumption of these varieties. Cold-water fish, like salmon and sardines, typically contain the least mercury, so they’re good staples to keep in your seafood rotation.
But unlike these researchers, I whole-heartedly recommend you also take fish oil every day. And I will cite this study as a good example of why it’s important to pay attention to the quality of supplement you’re buying.
It bears repeating: You must look at the nutritional facts label and make sure that there is a high content of DHA and EPA — I advise taking 3,000 mg daily — and not just “fish oils.” It’s the only way to guarantee that you’re getting enough of the good stuff to reap the many well-documented benefits.