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Omega 3s and Brain Health.

The excerpt below is from "THE DHA STORY -how Nature's Supernutrient can save Your Life" -by Robert Abel, Jr., M.D. (Available on on the link at the bottom of this page.)


A worldwide study compared fish intake among different cultural populations and the incidence of major depression episodes. Although this was not a controlled study, the results indicated that lower fish consumption contributes to lower omega-3 intake and, as a result, a higher incidence of depression.   This study also found a correlation between omega 3 intake and developmental changes in the nervous system, as well as changes in perception, IQ, vision, and problem-solving competence. This certainly makes sense when it comes to mood, in particular. Sufficient levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain help bring mood into balance. DHA is necessary to facilitate the flow of serotonin across the synaptic junction. Plus, higher levels of DHA and ARA in cerebrospinal fluid-the fluid that nourishes and cushions the brain and spinal cord-correlate with higher levels of serotonin metabolites. Conversely, deficiency of DHA in the brain, especially in the area of synapses, seems to relate to low serotonin levels,' which, in turn, can lead to depression. It makes sense, then, that eating fish on a regular basis is associated with fewer episodes of depression.

When we find ourselves in a stressful situation, the adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys, release a hormone called cortisol. This hormone is meant to be a short-lived response that enables the body to deal with an acute stressful situation by increasing alertness, pulse, blood pressure, and response time. Unfortunately, depending upon one's health and lifestyle, stress may not be short lived at all. The long-term effects of chronic physical or emotional stress on the brain are fatigue and depression. Based upon all that we know about the role played by DHA in maintaining optimal mental health, it is very likely that low levels of DHA are at least partially to blame for the body's inability to balance itself in instances of sustained physical stress.

There are many other contributors to depression, which should not be overlooked. They include medications; degenerative conditions such as heart disease, arthritis, chronic back pain, and liver disease; elevated cholesterol; a diet high in sugar; unsatisfactory relationships; and excess alcohol intake. Of these contributors, alcohol is an oxidant, like free radicals, that breaks down polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) or essential fatty acids (EFAs). Alcohol treated cats demonstrated a 17 percent increase in DHA in the  brain and an increase in unsaturated fat in both the brain and retina.

Hostility and Aggression

Studies show that hostility and aggression are linked to a deficiency of DHA.2 It's possible that such behavior could be ameliorated by increasing dietary DHA, which would accumulate in the cerebrospinal fluid in the brain. Obviously, there are other contributing factors and predispositions that determine whether a relatively DHA-deficient individual will be depressed and withdrawn or aggressive and hostile. But it should be noted that a DHA deficiency early in life has repeatedly been connected to long-term behavior problems.

Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a degenerative disease of the brain and peripheral nervous system, with characteristic acute attacks of focal episodes that may recur and Imcl (c) permanent sensory and motor disability. MS is considerd a "demylinating disease" because it causes a gradual destruction of  myelin sheath that covers and insulates nerve cells.

At least 350,000 cases of MS are diagnosed annually in the United States and there are four times that number of suspected cases.5 There is a higher incidence in northern climates, where typically there is more saturated fat in the diet. Infectious agents, such as chlamydia and candida have been  implicated, but these can be the result of an over active or misdirected immune system, rather than causes.

Progressive demylenization is generally believed to be irreversible, but the introduction of DHA into the diet has shown gradual improvements as shown by Magnetic Resonance imaging for some individuals. A decrease in frequency of relapses and an improvement in symptoms of MS has been realized with treatment with dietary DHA. It's important to remember, of course, that grains like flax provide only LNA, whereas algae-eating fish provide the longer-chain EPA and DHA. Diets that include excess amounts of animal fats, dairy products, and alcohol increase the levels of the prostaglandin 2 family, which is associated with a higher risk of MS and increase in the severity of symptoms. By contrast, diets rich in vegetables, nuts, and fish increase the prostaglandin 1 and 3 families, which reduce inflammation and improve MS symptoms.

I have found DHA to be very helpful in stabilizing and even improving the health of many of my patients. Alan Tillotson, Ph.D., an herbalist, has created a formula known as the Myelin Sheath Support Formula(tm) that, when used in conjunction with DHA, is extremely beneficial for people with MS.' Omega-6 fatty acids have also been listed as being of possible benefit These include evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black current oil, all of which contain the omega-6 gamma linoleic acid.

There are numerous other natural treatments that can help to manage the signs and symptoms of MS, including vitamin E, alpha lipoic acid, N-acetyl cysteine, B-complex vitamins and Bl2, phosphatidylserine, coenzyme Qr0, vitamin D, and ginkgo biloba or salvia miltiorrhiza-herbs that increase blood flow to the head and neck.

Treating chlamydia and candida, opportunistic infections, has been effective in improving symptoms in some individuals. Also treating attendant stress, anorexia, and dietary deficiencies are important in building up a positive antioxidant balance.

Learning Disabilities

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects an estimated 5 percent of the population; of this number, more boys than girls are affected. This disorder is generally characterised by inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity, although the severity of the symptoms vary among individuals. People with ADHD may find it difficult to complete their work, and they may avoid tasks that require prolonged concentration because they are easily distracted.

ADHD is less often seen in infants who were breast-fed or given supplements of DHA. Dr. Mary Ann Block, author of No More Ritalin: Treating ADHD Without Drugs is a mother of an inattentive child who had to find her own pathway to success in the management of this disorder. In her book, she cites many studies of the reduced risk of ADHD in the children of mothers who breastfed.8 Researchers have determined that there is an abnormality in fat metabolism in boys with ADHD; these youngsters have low blood levels of DHA and EPA.

Because the child with ADHD does not understand what is causing the educational and psychological disturbance, punishment is an ineffective response. Pharmaceutical therapy is not uniformly effective and often creates more internal disturbance-more stress-in many youngsters. Psycho-education is the mainstay of therapy for these conditions. Teaching  the person with ADHD methods of organisation, time management, and even meditation has been reported to be effective. Additionally, nutritionists and pediatricians are learning to treat the disorder not only with medication, but with changes in diet-for example, advising the avoidance of dietary stimulants as sugar and artificial coloring-and the addition of natural supplements.

Dyslexia is a learning disability characterised by an incomplete cycle of information that is now estimated  up to 10 percent of the U.S. population with 4 % severely affected. Some people with dyslexia also have ADHD.

In the highly regarded British medical journal The lancet, researchers reported that five patients who received 480 mg of DHA for one month showed significant improvement in reading ability when compared with untreated participants. Not all studies indicate that DHA or a mixture of essential fatty acids have a significant effect on dyslexia and attention disorders. However, many of these studies have used very low doses of DHA, and often included much more of the twenty-carbon omega-6 ARA, which competes with and inhibits the twenty-carbon omega-3 EPA.

Since hyperactivity is part of some of these behavior disorders, I would like to share another recent article. A Japanese study examined the hyperactivity and anxiety of students during examination time in that country. Those students who were maintained on a soybean oil diet showed increased levels of aggressive behavior, while those taking 1.5 grams of DHA daily showed no such behavior changes during this typically anxiety producing period. The difference was astounding.


A condition characterized by the inability to think clearly, the failure to manage emotions, and an altered state of reality, schizophrenia is often accompanied by delusions. Researcher D. Horrobinel has shown that schizophrenia is related to an abnormality in the body's metabolism of fatty acids. Although unable to study the actual brain tissue, he found that there was a decrease in polyunsaturated  fatty acids in red blood cell membranes in patients with schizophrenia as compared with people who did not have schizophrenia.

Hormonal, genetic, and environmental components all contribute to schizophrenia. Schizophrenic patients tend to have low levels of DHA in their systems. preliminary studies have shown that ingestion of 10 grams of a combination of DHA and EPA daily for several months markedly lessened symptoms in schizophrenics for many months

Other natural therapies for schizophrenia  that have been found to be at least somewhat effective  include vitamin E, an important fat soluble antioxidant that protects cell membranes; alpha lipoic acid; N-acetyl cysteine, acetile; L-carnitine; co-enzyme Q10; phosphatidylserine; NADH (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide); and ginkgo biloba.

Glutathione is an antioxidant enzyme produced in our bodies that helps support cell membranes and protect cells from oxidative stress. It also seems to lessen some neurological symptoms of schizophrenia. It's important to note that taking the acetaminophen (Tylenol) greatly lowers glutathione levels because glutathione is needed to bind acetaminophen in order to excrete it from the body. Since low levels of glutathione have been associated with neurological disease, cataracts, and skin deterioration, taking acetaminophen frequently for pain can actually cause other, more serious problems. The sulfur-containing cysteine can boost glutathione production and is available in supplement form as N-acetyl cysteine.

Alzheimer's Disease

Noted neurologist and author Dr. David Perlmutter has estimated that there may be as many as 4.5 million people with Alzheimer's disease living in the U.S.-and that number appears to be growing. There are indications that low levels of DHA contribute to the increased risk of senile dementia, a category of conditions that includes Alzheimer's diseasese, organic mental syndrome, and chronic brain syndrome. In the face of this evidence, it may be important for your loved ones or friends who are exhibiting early memory loss or forgetfulness to begin therapy with DHA. There is no way to know if their forgetfulness will progress to a full-scale disorder, but DHA is crucial for normal neurological function.

Studies have shown that 700mg and 1,400mg  of DHA taken daily can improve symptoms of  cerebrovascular dementia, caused by insufficient blood flow the brain, and true Alzheimer's disease. Since we cannot biopsy the brain, red bloodphosphotidyl/DHA samples are used as an indication of body DHA levels. People with phosphotidyl choline/DHA levels less than 3.5 percent of their total fatty acid levels had two-thirds greater risk of developing senile dementia. Schaeffer reported similar findings-that a reduction in phosphatidyl choline/DHA compound in the blood is associated with an increased risk of dementia.

On the other hand, Masaki and the Honolulu Heart Program  found that Japanese-American men in Hawaii who took vitamins C and E were 88 percent less likely to develop vascular dementia.

Other studies have shown that Alzheimer's patients have less DHA in their blood cells; instead, there are high blood levels of DHA breakdown products, including EPA and inflammatory components. In other words, in Alzheimer's patients, the "good" fat is being destroyed-leaving behind inflammatory breakdown products-and it is not resupplied in the body. Thus, the DHA level decreases.

A recent study followed seven of thirty nuns living in the same convent who took multivitamins over their lifetimes. After their deaths, autopsies revealed that the brains of those nuns who took vitamins showed less atrophy than the brains of those who did not take vitamins. Of those who were part of the study, fifteen were diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease; autopsies revealed that these fifteen nuns had very low levels of folic acid. Additionally, the participapants with advanced Alzheimer's disease had an approximately30 percent lower DHA content in various areas of the brain compared with nuns of the same age without the disease.l8

As is the case with many other neurologic and cognitive disorders, total body health and appropriate nutrition may help forestall the devastating effects of Alzheimer's disease.

Parkinson's Disease

Parkinson's disease is a progressive neurological disease that affects nerve cells in an area of the brain called the substantia nigra. These cells normally produce dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps coordinate muscle movement. Symptoms of Parkinson's include muscle stiffness, tremors, and a gradual slowing down of movement that may ultimately progress to fixed posture, fixed, stare, and loss of facial expression.

Studies have revealed that the brains of people with Parkinson's have reduced levels of glutathione, an antioxidant enzyme produced in our bodies that helps support cell membranes and protect cells from oxidative stress. In individuals with Parkinson's, glutathione synthesis, which normally occurs in the liver, is deficient-a finding that has led experts to believe that there is an association between liver disturbance and Parkinson's disease. Indeed, researchers have demonstrated that intravenous glutathione can improve the symptoms of Parkinson's disease; the intravenous therapy resupplies the brain's needs for glutathione. Additionally, glutathione recycles vitamins c and  E, and enhances liver and brain detoxification. In one study, the administration of glutathione demonstrated a 42 percent reduction in disability in Parkinson's patients.

Alpha Lipoic Acid, a powerful anti-oxidant that regenerates glutathione and vitamins C& E is an alternative to intravenous glutathione. Alpha Lipoic acid (ALA) is ingested orally, is both water and fat soluble, and is able to cross the blood-brain barrier. ALA is a metal chelator, which means it binds toxic heavy metals-such as mercury, lead, and cadmium-in the body, so the body can eliminate them. Although this has not yet been proved, heavy metals are suspected of contributing to the development of Parkinson's disease. The introduction of supplements coenzyme Q10, NADH, and phosphatidylserine (important to stability of cell membranes and cells' mitochondria) may also be helpful.

Other nutrients may also be helpful in preventing or forestalling the development of Parkinson's disease. For instance, acetyl L-carnitine is important in transporting fat across mitochondrial membranes, and in laboratory animals has demonstrated protection from the disorder. Additionally, vitamins C, D, and E, as well as ginkgo biloba, have been reported to provide some benefits. Finally, essential fats, like DHA, that strengthen cell membranes and improve signal transmission must also play a role.

Sleep Disorders

Recent research has discovered a retinal cell that connects the midbrain and the pineal gland, a small organ buried deep within the brain. The pineal gland secretes melatonin, a hormone that is responsible for regulating our biological rhythms. The release of melatonin, which occurs when our eyes register darkness, is what makes us feel sleepy at night. Because it is important in the conduction of electrical impulses in both the retinal fibers and brain, some researchers believe that DHA can be helpful in treating sleep disorders, as well as other problems related to abnormal melatonin levels, including seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and jet lag.

Other Disorders

The following neurolical conditions have shown some improvement with DHA supplementation: bipolar disorders: vascular dementia; organic brain syndrome; stroke recovery, alcoholism; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); c cerebral palsy; postpolio syndrome; tardive dyskinesia; and drug side effects.

DHA has also been shown to be helpful in treating numerous abnormalities, including Zellweger syndrome; juvenile neuronal ceroid lipfuscinoses; Refsum's disease; mitochondrial dystrophy; phenylketonuria, or Folling's disease; and adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). ALD is a disorder associated with loss of vision, swallowing, and speaking, as well as with changes in behavior and insufficient adrenal gland hormones. This was the disease suffered by Lorenzo Odone. His parents treated him with a combination of olive and rapeseed oils, and his treatment inspired the movie Lorenzo's Oil. Further research indicates, however, that DHA is more effective than these oils in cases of ALD.

The information above is an excerpt from this book. It is the best book I have found on the subject.

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Last modified: December 03, 2012