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Care and Feeding of Your Brain: High Dose Fish Oil?

Posted Sep 13 2008 1:15am

I am frequently asked by my clients about strategies to improve their brain's performance other than neurofeedback.

Here's something to consider:

Sixty percent of the brain's weight is fat and most of this is one specific "long-chain omega-3 fatty acid" called DHA. DHA is needed for the the nerve cells to communicate with each other, for vision (did you know the eyes are an extension of the brain?), and for energy production. So it's essential for normal brain functioning.

People who live in countries with very high fish consumption have the lowest rates of neurological disorders. Now, this is a correlation -- which means that eating fish and avoiding neurological disorders are linked, but that we can't know for sure that eating fish causes people to avoid neurological problems.

There are some other possible bits of evidence, so let's take a look at some other numbers.

First, though, keep in mind that fish oil, especially ultra-refined high dose fish oil, increases the levels of predominantly two omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA. And in animal studies, we can see that these increases happen both in the body and in the brain.

Low levels of EPA and/or DHA have been reported in the brains of people with:

  • Attention deficit disorder
  • Alzheimer's
  • Aggression
  • Alcoholism
  • Autism
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depression
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson's
  • Schizophrenia
  • There are also studies to show that increasing levels of EPA and DHA in the brains of people with some of these conditions is able to produce exciting and unexpected improvements.

    What exactly does increasing EPA and DHA in the brain do? They decrease inflammation (and the hormone cortisol that is associated with memory problems), help regulate the balance of dopamine and serotonin (two chemicals in the brain that are necessary for nerve cell communication) stabilize blood sugar levels, and other good things.

    But is it helpful to increase these fats in the "average" brain? Can you "supercharge" your brain?

    Surprisingly, it seems as if you can.

    (Of course, it may not be that we are really "supercharging" our brain. It is likely that most people eating a typical Western diet are actually deficient in these critical fatty acids. So while we may look and feel "supercharged", this may actually be what a brain should be doing! )

    But let's not worry about that right now. There is also evidence that taking EPA and DHA supplements even when you don't have any identified problems can still make a positive difference. For example, aWelsh psychologist, Dr. David Benton, reported that healthy young women taking DHA were able to significantly improve their attention compared to women taking a placebo pill.

    What kinds of cognitive and emotional improvements might you expect from taking EPA and DHA?:

    - Better concentration

    - Improved memory

    - More positive and stable moods

    - Increased creativity

    - Better stress management

    How do I get these improvements, you ask?

    1) First, as always, speak to your physician first if you have a health problem or are taking medications. Omega-3 fatty acids can affect blood clotting, so you want to know that you aren't putting yourself in danger.

    2) Use a pharmaceutical-grade fish oil - avoid the cheaper cod liver oil type supplements. (This should ensure that you aren't swallowing large amounts of toxins in your fish oil and that you don't overdose on vitamin A - dangerous!)

    3) Take about 5g of mixed omega-3 fish oils per day. Watch for diarrhea or nausea, which may reflect that you are taking too much or that you need to make sure you take the oil with food.

    4) Dr. Stoll recommends also taking vitamins C, E, and a good general multivitamin when taking an omega-3 supplement. You can read more about doses in his book (see below).

    5) Expect to feel changes in mood and cognition. Mood effects may be quite quick -- within a few hours to a couple of weeks for initial changes. Cognitive changes are slower and you should hang in there for at least a month to notice meaningful change.

    Of course, I think you will see even more and quicker results from combining omega-3 fatty acids with neurofeedback to really "super-charge" your brain (but you knew I'd say that, eh? ). Neurofeedback will let your brain take those increased nutrients and "adjust" its functioning to be optimal.

    To read more about Omega-3 fatty acids:

    Some great websites and blogs for more information:

    Psychology Today - Brain Boosters

    The Human Brain - Fats

    The New Scientist -

    Sections on fats, neurofeedback, and other brain care ideas

    Benefits of Fish Oil Blog - lots of studies describing the benefits of fish oil; explore the articles on fish oil and the brain

    For pharmaceutical-grade fish oil sources, try:

    Dr. Sears - OmegaRx

    Dr. Stoll - OmegaBrite

    Sea Change Nutraceuticals - See Yourself Well

    OrMetagenicssells a high-quality pharmaceutical-grade fish oil through qualified health professionals. (This is the one I use...)

    There are others - just be careful that they are pharmaceutical-grade, purified oils and compare the amount of EPA and DHA each provides.

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