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Omega-3 Fatty Acids: A Lifetime of Benefits for Cognition, Immune Function, and Overall Health

Omega 3

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Overwhelming scientific evidence suggests that omega-3 fatty acids are vital for optimum health at every age and stage of human development.* There are three primary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are found in fish and seafood. Flaxseed oil represents a third type of plant-derived omega-3 fatty acid. Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) from flax can be converted into EPA and DHA in small amounts. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for brain health and development, memory, attention, and concentration, well-being and mood, heart health, comfortable joints, soft, supple skin, strong nails, shiny, healthy hair, and the health of the retina and eyes.* Recent research is also uncovering more surprising roles of omega-3s such as their involvement in respiratory health and supporting immune function.*

Unfortunately, the modern Western diet often provides an inadequate amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s are often outnumbered in the diet by omega-6 fatty acids due to increased consumption of corn and corn-fed animal products. This leads to an imbalanced omega-3 index, the amount of EPA and DHA measured in red blood cells. The omega-3 index has been extensively studied as an indicator of cardiovascular health.1 The ideal omega-3 index is considered 8% or above. However, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that 95.7% of people in the United States has an omega-3 index below 4%.2 These levels are correlated with a range of health challenges including inflammation, poor cardiovascular health, and low mood.

Historically, humans ate a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) of approximately 1:1. Today, people eating a Western-style diet loaded with processed food and containing little seafood, nuts, and seeds are consuming a diet with an omega-6 to omega-3  ratio of 15:1 to 16.7:1.3 This imbalance affects virtually every aspect of health.

Supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids can replenish levels of this important nutrient often lacking in the diet. However, the best results are achieved using a quality fish oil product with superior purity and potency derived from deep, cold-water, wild caught fish. This white paper will discuss the latest research on omega-3s, with an emphasis on central nervous system benefits, as well as the advantages to using DaVinci Laboratories omega-3 supplements such as kiddOmega-3,™  Brain Benefits™, and the vegan-friendly CocOmega™.*

 

In Utero and In Infancy, Omega-3s Are the Brain’s Best Friend

 

The brain is a lipid-rich environment, so it makes sense that from the early stages of life, omega-3 fatty acids are essential to brain health. Our brains literally depend on omega-3s in utero and in infancy. Kids low in omega-3s are often faced with brain health problems. That’s why pregnant women are urged to eat mercury-free fish regularly. The omega-3 fatty acid DHA is especially critical for a child’s developing brain.*4 DHA maintains brain health by regulating neurogenesis, the process by which new neurons are created in the brain.*5 It also plays an important role in the cell-to-cell communication known as neurotransmission and stimulating the activity of synapses, or the connections between neurons.6, 7 This leads to better focus, concentration, and learning.*

 

Kids’ Brains Can’t Think Straight Without Omega-3s

 

In children and adolescents, getting enough omega-3 fatty acids calms behavior, helps kids pay attention to the task at hand, and boosts their ability to learn.*8 These fatty acids promote neural synchronization, healthy cooperation and communication between a child’s brain and his or her body.* Scientists have found that children and adolescents with poor focus and attention have low omega-3 levels, and researchers propose that this may be involved in the children’s inability to concentrate and their impulsive behavior.8 Furthermore, higher omega-3 levels are linked to reduced shyness and feelings of calmness, and higher DHA levels are associated with better word reading.9* Conversely, greater omega-6 levels are associated with worse reading, vocabulary, spelling, and attention.9

When pregnant women increase their omega-3 intake, their children do better in school and in society.* For example, in an epidemiological study, children of mothers who ate the most seafood during pregnancy had better verbal intelligence, social behaviors, fine motor coordination, verbal communication, and social development compared to children whose mothers ate the least seafood prenatally.10

Omega-3 supplementation sharpens attention span and focus in children.*11 In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, children given both 722 mg/day DHA and 2,000 IU/day vitamin D were less irritable compared to placebo.*12 A meta-analysis and systematic review analyzed seven randomized controlled trials including a total of 534 children and adolescents.8 The reviewers found that compared with a placebo, supplementation with omega-3s maintained attention and focus and contributed to calm, healthy behavior.* This same meta-analysis found that in three randomized controlled trials featuring 214 youths, omega-3 supplementation supported cognitive measures associated with attention.* For example, in one of the studies included in the meta-analysis, the association between increased omega-3 fatty acids and improved attention occurred mainly in the omega-3 fatty acids group but not in the children given the placebo.*13  

 

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Younger Adults Can Think Faster with Omega-3s*

 

Omega-3s keep the mind sharp and focused, no matter what a person’s age. For example, in one 30-day study, 20 to 34-year-olds were given an EPA and DHA supplement.14 The omega-3s, especially higher amounts of EPA, caused the participants’ brains to achieve better cognitive performance, with less effort.* In addition, a review of the medical literature found that 1.16 grams/day of DHA given for six months to adults in their 30s led to improved episodic memory in women and reaction times of working memory in men.*15 Episodic memory refers to the ability to recall personally experienced events that happen at a specific place and time. Researchers measure episodic memory through the recall of stories, word lists, or figures. People usually experience a decline in episodic memory as they grow older. Working memory is the multi-tasking part of the brain that allows you to perform functions such as remembering an address while being instructed how to get there.

Omega-3s Powerful Benefits in Healthy Brain Aging*

 

Keeping the brain working properly into old age is important for maintaining our independence and being able to continue doing the things we love to do. Omega-3s may even be the solution for people who forget where they put their car keys or cell phones.* A recent study showed the dramatic effect of omega-3s on learning and memory formation in cognitively healthy, older adults.*16 The researchers used an object-location memory test to study the effects of 2,200 mg/day omega-3 fatty acids or a placebo on 44 individuals aged 50 to 75 years. Before and after the 26-week, double-blind, randomized study, researchers evaluated the subjects’ memory by having them recall where objects were located. The treatment group showed a substantial increase in the omega-3 index and they were significantly better able to recall the location of objects compared to participants taking the placebo.

The evidence for the beneficial effect of omega-3s on brain health doesn’t stop there. Many other studies show these powerful nutrients can boost cognitive function. For example, in a randomized, controlled trial, researchers studied 183 adults aged 70 or older with mild memory complaints and a low omega-3 index of 4.83% or less.17 One group received 800 mg/day of DHA  and a maximum amount of 225 mg/day EPA for three years while another group of patients received a placebo. The subjects underwent eight cognitive tests. Compared to the placebo group, the omega-3 group experienced less decline on the Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT), a neuropsychological test that measures frontal lobe impairment and memory loss by asking participants to associate similar words.* These results suggest omega-3s can maintain an important part of cognitive function known as executive functioning in older adults with a low omega-3 index.* On the other cognitive tests, omega-3 supplementation did have mild benefits, although the results weren’t as dramatic as with the word association test.

The evidence is overwhelming for the benefits of omega-3s in healthy brain aging.*18 For example, a systematic review of the medical literature including 15 trials found that older adults with a history of mild memory complaints experienced large improvements in episodic memory after taking more than 1 gram per day of DHA plus EPA.*19 In this review, people taking omega-3 fatty acids also experienced improvements in semantic memory (the ability to remember words, concepts, and numbers) and working memory.

People who are lonely often have worse memory. Consequently, researchers conducted a study of 138 people (mean age 51 years) randomized to receive 1.25 grams/day of omega-3s, 2.5 grams/day of omega-3s, or a placebo for four months.20 Based on questionnaires and a battery of cognitive tests, lonely people who didn’t take omega-3s had worse verbal episodic memory. However, lonely people supplementing with 1.25- and 2.50-grams/day of omega-3 fatty acids did not experience any declines in memory at all.*

Regulating blood flow to specific areas of the brain can maintain brain structure and function and keep memory sharp with age. A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind study found that omega-3 fatty acids can improve blood flood to areas of the brain linked to memory.*21 In this study, cerebral blood flow was measured before and after 13 patients with mild memory problems were given omega-3 fatty acids or a placebo for 26 weeks. The individuals supplementing with the omega-3 fatty acids experienced improved brain blood flow and blood volume, an effect that didn’t occur in the placebo group.*

Are Omega-3s the Key to Happiness?

 

There is a lot of research showing omega-3s may be as effective at boosting mood as they are at maintaining memory.* In one study that investigated the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on mood, 51 older adults were randomly divided to receive either a placebo or omega-3s (1,200 mg EPA and 800 mg DHA) every day for 12 weeks.22 The scientists measured glutathione (GSH)  levels in the thalamus of the brain to monitor excessive oxidative stress. Their mood was measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire.

Compared with the omega-3 group, there was a greater change in brain glutathione levels in the placebo group, indicating more oxidative stress. A worsening of mood was also associated with this  increased oxidative stress in the placebo group. The researchers concluded that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation may reduce oxidative stress, which in turn has a positive impact on mood.*

Epidemiological and randomized placebo-controlled trials continue to show that deficiency of dietary omega-3 fatty acids may lead to a sad and unhappy mood. On the other hand, supplementation with omega-3s may act as a natural mood booster.*23 A review of the medical literature found that getting enough omega-3 fatty acids during pregnancy was associated with a better mood postpartum.*24 Another review showed that omega-3 fatty acids have the same effect in elderly people.*25 This review focused on six studies of 4,605 patients older than 65 years and found that a mean dose of omega-3 intake of 1.3 grams/day was effective in producing an upbeat, positive mood in people who were mildly to moderately unhappy. In 72 healthy young adults with a mean age of 20 years, a 35-day, double-blind trial using 2,800 mg/day fish oil containing 1,680 mg EPA and 1,120 mg DHA led to a stabilization of feelings of anger and confusion after being exposed to a psychological stressor.*26 The placebo group experienced increases in these emotions.

Scientists used to believe that DHA was the brain-boosting superstar of the omega-3 family. This was a logical conclusion given that levels of EPA in the brain are typically 250 to 300 times less than DHA.27 However, there’s now an abundance of evidence showing EPA is also able to contribute to the health of nerve cells in the brain.*27 For instance, dietary EPA and DHA lead to a similar increase in brain phospholipid concentrations and EPA, like DHA, promotes healthful effects in the brain in the presence of the enzyme COX-2.27 EPA, like DHA, can also increase neurite outgrowth in young animals.*27 Neurite outgrowth is the process where neurons make new projections as they grow. This is important for many aspects of brain function including sensation, movement, perception, memory, emotion, and behavior. The body also converts EPA to DHA when DHA levels are low.8

Omega-3s Lead to Clear and Comfortable Vision*

 

From before birth, omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA, are vital for the development of visual acuity.* In other words, starting when they are in the womb, kids need omega-3s to have sharp vision.* Omega-3s perform a crucial role in eye health throughout life.* DHA, for example, keeps retinal cells healthy.*28,29 In addition, Omega-3s may maintain healthy intraocular pressure already in the normal range.*30 Some of the most extensive research on the ocular benefits of omega-3s involve their role in dry eyes.* A review of the medical literature focusing on 17 randomized clinical trials involving 3,363 patients concluded that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation decreased dry eye symptoms compared with placebo.*31

 

Keeping the Lungs, Heart, Joints, Skin, Hair, and Nails Healthy

 

Omega-3 fatty acids don’t just improve cognitive function, they also demonstrate powerful health benefits for the heart, lungs, skin, and more.* Omega-3 fatty acids keep the airways in the lungs open and clear and support healthy pulmonary function, allowing people to breathe easier.*32,33 Omega-3 fatty acids also support the lung health of people on mechanical ventilation and reduce the time spent on ventilators.*34 Furthermore, omega-3 fatty acids can increase oxygenation in the lungs of humans experiencing respiratory distress,35 and support lung health after exposure to environmental allergens.*36

Exposure to bacteria or viruses can lead to impaired lung function. Animal research found that in these type of situations, compared to a diet of predominantly omega-6 fatty acids, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids may support lung health by clearing the air sacs of the lungs.*37 Animals eating the omega-3-rich diet had lower levels of the harmful cytokine interleukin-6 and an increase in the beneficial cytokine interleukin-10.*

The evidence is very strong for the use of omega-3s in maintaining a healthy heart.*38,39 A higher omega-3 index is associated with many aspects of heart health.* It supports healthy blood pressure and cholesterol already in the normal range and maintains insulin sensitivity.39-42

Furthermore, omega-3s promote comfortable joints and improve muscle soreness after exercise, which can promote an active lifestyle, whether it involves hiking to the top of a mountain or chasing after the grand kids.*43-46 In addition, omega-3 supplementation of pregnant mothers can lead to smooth, healthy skin in their infants.*47 Adults also reap the rewards of omega-3 fatty acids’ ability to promote clear, comfortable skin.*48 In addition, people who supplement with omega-3s may boast fuller hair and stronger nails.*49-51

 

Omega-1

Why Omega-3s Are Powerfully Effective: Mechanisms of Action

 

One of the ways in which omega-3 fatty acids keep the brain and body healthy is by blocking the cytokines IL-1a, IL-6, TNF-a, IFN-γ, inflammasome NLRP3, and C-reactive protein (CRP), a measurement of many areas of health including brain and heart health.*52-54 Levels of each of these need to be balanced for healthy immune function in the brain and body. Omega-3s can also protect neurons by combating the harmful effects and oxidative stress caused by lipopolysaccharides (LPS), a cell wall component of gram-negative bacteria.*55 High LPS levels can lead to decreased well-being and a sad mood.*55

High NLRP3 is an especially important marker of not only brain health but also immune function. NLRP3 regulates the activity of viruses in the central nervous system and lungs and also plays a role in the extent to which patients can stay healthy during immune challenges.56-60 High NLRP3 is also involved in the negative effects of obesity. Omega-3 fatty acids, by blocking NLRP3, can stop the communication that occurs between fat cells and immune cells.*61 In this way, omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the harmful effects that poor weight management has on the body.*

 

Choosing the Best Omega-3 Supplement

 

Unfortunately, bioaccumulation of toxins in marine life is a real safety concern and superior quality is therefore necessary when choosing an omega-3 dietary supplement. 62 DaVinci Laboratories’ kiddOmega-3™ and Brain Benefits™ answer this need. Only the healthiest fish are used to make these omega-3 supplements: deep, cold-water, wild-caught fish, which naturally have higher levels of omega-3s and lower levels of contaminants. They have been third-party tested for mercury, lead, arsenic, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and more. They meet the highest standards for purity, quality, and freshness and are free of gluten, dairy, preservatives, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and unnecessary ingredients. Even more, the fish used to make these products were sustainably harvested.

 

DaVinci Laboratories omega-3 products meet all the criteria of superior quality omega-3 supplements for all ages and dietary restrictions. kiddOmega-3™ and Brain Benefits™ contain high-potency DHA, to nourish the brain with scientifically proven amounts of this fatty acid critical for memory, concentration, attention span, and learning.* kiddOmega-3™ and Brain Benefits™ are both great-tasting, fruit-flavored liquids. They’re sweetened with monk fruit and are easy to add to food and drinks. For vegans, DaVinci Laboratories offers CocOmega™, a plant-based omega-3 made with extra virgin coconut oil and organic flax seed oil.

 

The evidence is clear that omega-3 fatty acids provide a lifetime of benefits for the brain and overall health.* Use DaVinci Laboratories high-quality omega-3 supplements to improve emotional outlook, promote laser-focused concentration, and sharpen memory, while also supporting the health of your heart, lungs, skin, and immune system.*

 

 

 

References

 

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