Fatty fish and fish oils are good for your brain

Fatty fish such as salmon and sardines contain omega-3 fatty acids that have been found to have beneficial effects for the heart, brain and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. It is possible to test your level of omega-3, known as the omega-3 Index.

Source: Colourbox

Omega-3 Index

Omega-3 Index is a measure of how much omega-3 fatty acids you have in the blood. The most common marine fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are mostly produced by phytoplankton and they are important in most cell types of the body. It is by many authorities recommended that gram quantities of these long chain fatty acids should be consumed to reduce blood lipids, blood platelet adhesion, and possibly certain inflammatory processes, in addition to improve cardiovascular health and brain function.

Interpretation of test results

The Omega-3 Index usually varies between 1 and 12%. An Omega-3 Index less than 4% is unfavorable to the heart compared with a value above 8%. At values ​​between 4 and 8%, the risk is reduced as the index increases.

If values ​​are less than 8%, you should increase the intake of fish fat to exceed 8%. Fatty fish (eg. salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines) cod liver oil or supplements (capsules with cod liver oil or fish oils) can be used to increase the level of omega-3 fatty acids in the body.

• If your Omega-3 Index is between 1 and 4%, you should take 3 grams of fish fatty acids daily (or 21 g/week).

• If your Omega-3 Index is between 4 and 8%, you should eat at least 2 g of marine fatty acids daily (14 g per week). • If your Omega-3 Index is more than 8%, you already have an adequate intake of oily fish or fish oils. You should continue with the corresponding intake of oily fish or fish oils in the diet.

Health effects of fatty fish and fish oils

Due to the beneficial effects of fish fat for heart, brain and certain conditions that cause inflammation (eg. arthritis), an abundant intake of fatty fish and fish oils is recommended. In addition, fatty acids from fatty fish are particularly important for the fetus and newborns. The Norwegian (and several other) health authorities recommend that you eat more fatty fish and that all children and adults should take a daily supply of cod liver oil of 5 mL, which translates to 1.2 g per day. The ability of the body to transport and metabolize omega-3 fatty acids varies from individual to individual. By measuring your Omega-3 Index, you can measure if you eat enough fish fatty acids to get a sufficiently high level of omega-3 fatty acids in your blood.

Suggestions for how you can increase your Omega-3 Index

• 2 dinners of salmon a week (total of 400 g/week salmon) equals 12 g of marine fatty acids

• 2 dinners of mackerel a week (total of 400 g/week mackerel) equals 18 g of marine fatty acids

• 2 dinners of herring a week (total of 400 g/week herring) equals 16 g of marine fatty acids

• 1 piece of bread with mackerel in tomato (40 g) daily (total of 280 g/week mackerel) equals 10 g/week of marine fatty acids

• Möller's Omega-3 cod liver oil (5 mL = a big teaspoon/day) equals 9 g of marine fatty acids per week

How about vegetarians/vegans and Omega 3?

Most data suggest that the “ready to use” marine omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA are the most effective for incorporation for e.g. into brain lipids. These marine fatty acids are exclusively produced by phytoplankton mostly found in the oceans and thereby transferred through the nutrition chain to fish, seals, whales,etc. The precursor of these long-chain omega- 3 fatty acids also are found in land-based plants like soy and rapeseed. These are the most important sources of  plant omega-3 fatty acids, and it is called alpha-linolenic acid. This fatty acid is also found in nuts and to some extent in whole grains.

By being a conservative vegan (not having any food of animal origin, but healthy plant foods) nobody gets omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, but they probably have non-optimal molecules for making their brains.

Article edited by Christian A. Drevon, Medical doctor, Professor, Department of Nutrition, University of Oslo/Consultant in Vitas Ltd.

Published Oct. 18, 2018 9:32 AM - Last modified Oct. 19, 2018 2:48 PM