Essential Fats For A Healthy Brain
Suffering from ‘brain fog’? It’s common at menopause but could your diet help?
One of the aspects of menopause that many women report is brain fog, and weight gain. One of the greatest misconceptions is that if you need to lose weight you must give up fat, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Nutritionist Patrick Holford has some interesting comments on the relationship between healthy fats and brain health, so I am sharing them with you here.
What is your brain composed of?
The dry weight of your brain is 60 per cent fat and there are many different types of fats; polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, hydrogenated, saturated and trans fat.
The trillions of brain cells are largely made out of essential fats, bound to phospholipids. The binding together of these essential brain components, depends on methylation.
Methylation is what occurs when the body takes one substance and turns it into another, so that it can be detoxified and excreted from the body.
There are some key nutrients: vitamins, essential fats, phospholipids and methylation nutrients.
Achieving an optimal supply is central, not only to intelligence and memory, but also your mood. As the speed of life and pace of change accelerates, and our lifespan extends, the brain, more than any other organ, feels the strain reflected in an ever-increasing incidence of depression, dementia and ADHD.
To what extent can these problems be avoided by an optimal supply of the brain makers? I reported on a study that found that B vitamins were remarkably protective against brain shrinkage in people with enough omega-3s, illustrating that brain makers work together.
Brainmaker No.1 – Essential brain fats
As far as essential fats are concerned the most abundant in the brain is DHA which is short for Docosahexaenoic Acid.
Oily fish contain roughly equal amounts of DHA and EPA which is short for Eicosapentaenoic Acid. It is an essential omega-3 fatty acid found in fish such as salmon, mackerel and herring, and is an essential component of a healthy brain.
Only DHA, alone or combined with EPA, contributes to improved memory function in older adults (45+) with mild memory complaints’, concludes a meta-analysis in the Public Library of Services journal. The benefit, they say, is apparently driven by DHA, at a daily level between 500 and 1,000mg. There is also evidence of benefit for schoolchildren.
On the other hand, EPA has strong anti-depressant effects. Last year a meta-analysis concluded that ‘the use of omega-3 is effective in patients with diagnosis of depression’. A similar dose is needed for an effect.
To achieve at least 500mg of both EPA and DHA does mean supplementing them, as well as eating fish. I take a twice daily capsule giving me 250mg of each, and eat oily fish three times a week, plus a tub of taramasalata – fish roe is a great source. I also eat chia seeds, the highest vegetarian source of omega 3.
Brainmaker No.2 – Phospholipids
All fish, not just oily fish, are an excellent source of the next brain maker – phospholipids, as are eggs. They are the backbone of brain cells – the essential fats literally hang off them creating the intelligent membrane that not only holds neurons together but contains the receptor sites for neurotransmitters, the brain’s communication molecules.
They are semi-essential, meaning that the body can make them but growing evidence shows that we just don’t make enough and need to get a direct source from diet or supplements.
The most abundant phospholipid in the brain is phosphatidyl choline. Also important is phosphatidyl serine and phospatidyl dimethylethanolamine – abbreviated to PC, PS and DMAE accordingly.
Both PC and PS have been shown to improve memory, concentration, speed of thinking and protect those with mental illness. One study gave students a large dose of PC and reported memory improvement within 90 minutes.
Lecithin granules or capsules are a direct source of PC. I supplement all three in my brain food formula, as well as making a point to eat six eggs a week, plus five servings of fish.
Brainmaker No.3 – Methylation nutrients
There are a billion ‘methylation’ reactions every few seconds in your brain. Methylation is what occurs when the body takes one substance and turns it into another, so that it can be detoxified and excreted from the body.
It turns genes on and off, repairs DNA, makes neurotransmitters and phospholipids and is also needed to attach them to essential omegas. It is the builder, while omegas and phospholipids are the building material. If your homocysteine level is high you’ve got a methylation problem.
The three most important methylation nutrients are vitamins B12, folate and B6. But you also need methyl groups. Greens contain the natural ‘methyl’-folate vitamin, but it is an unstable form. That’s why most supplements contain the stable form called folic acid.
What it does: Critical during pregnancy for the development of a baby’s brain and nerves but also essential for brain and nerve function. However it has to be converted back into methylfolate to work properly and not everyone is good at doing this.
Recently, stable forms of methylfolate have become available and are preferable in lowering high homocysteine levels, thus improving methylation. Lentils, beans, nuts and seeds are also an important source of folates.
Later in life B12 absorption can become impaired so B12 is especially important to supplement in relatively high doses – from a base of 10mcg to 500mcg if homocysteine level is high.
Zinc also helps lower homocysteine and is a component of over 200 enzymes in the body, essential for growth, important for healing, controls hormones, aids ability to cope with stress.
What you need to eat for a healthy brain
So, for a healthy brain, you want to eat fish, eggs, greens, beans, nuts and chia seeds and supplement extra omega 3 fish oil, high in DHA and EPA, plus phospholipids and methylation nutrients – B6, B12 and folate, plus zinc and TMG.
It is especially important for vegans to supplement these nutrients, including a seaweed derived source of EPA and DHA. Chia oil is also available in capsules.
It is clear that diet is a key component in responding well to ageing and symptoms such as brain fog, anxiety and depression.
Diet is one factor and hormone balance is another, and low progesterone is linked to both weight gain and brain fog so the article below will be helpful, and more on brain health at https://www.holfordirect.com/