Described as “a major advance”, a new study led by renowned neuropsychiatrist and bestselling author Daniel G Amen adds to the growing evidence that omega 3 fatty acids are essential for the brain.

Research to date suggests these fats can promote cognitive health and help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. These benefits come in addition to Omega 3s’ better known ability to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

The new study expands on our knowledge by using a sophisticated scanning technique.

These are Dr. Amen’s exciting findings.

Animal and Human Studies Reveal Benefits

In recent years there’s been an increased interest in how diet and the use of supplements can prevent cognitive decline. Omega 3 fats rank high among the nutritional components that have grabbed the attention of researchers.

In animal research these have been shown to act against the build-up of beta-amyloid proteins, tau tangles and inflammation that are all associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

Previous human research into omega 3s has shown wide-ranging brain benefits that include less brain shrinkage in older people, improved memory and learning abilities in those with mild cognitive impairment, reduced risk of depression, and better sleep patterns in younger people.

For the new study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease in May, a random group of 166 patients were enrolled after referral from a psychiatric clinic.

Records of their Omega 3 Index were already available. The index measures concentrations in the blood of the two main omega 3 fats, EPA and DHA. All participants were categorized into two groups according to their level of these nutrients – high or low. The researchers also undertook a web-based cognitive assessment.

The Power of SPECT

Using single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), the researchers scanned 128 regions of the participants’ brains while they performed various mental tasks.

Unlike CT and MRI scans that look at the brain’s structure, SPECT looks at blood flow and activity in the brain. It can tell if there is normal, too little or too much activity, and it also shows if the brain has been affected by physical disorders, or whether it’s been exposed to infections or toxins.

When the scan images were compared to the Omega 3 Index, the researchers found greater blood flows in those areas of the brain in the group with higher blood levels of omega 3 fats. The brain regions involved were all concerned with memory and cognition. They also found higher levels of omega 3 were associated with better psychological health.

Lead researcher, Dr. Amen, of the Amen Clinics Inc., Costa Mesa, California, is one of the world leaders in applying brain imaging science to emotional, behavioral and psychological issues, and a pioneer in SPECT brain scanning.

Commenting on the study he said, “This is very important research because it shows a correlation between lower omega 3 fatty acid levels and reduced brain blood flow to regions important for learning, memory, depression and dementia.”

Simple Changes — Big Impact

Another of the study authors, William Harris, from the University of South Dakota School of Medicine, added, “Although we have considerable evidence that omega 3 levels are associated with better cardiovascular health, the role of the ‘fish oil’ fatty acids in mental health and brain physiology is just beginning to be explored.

“This study opens the door to the possibility that relatively simple dietary changes could favorably impact cognitive function.”

This research was described as “a major advance in demonstrating the value of nutritional intervention in brain health” by Dr. George Perry, Dean and Professor of Biology at the University of Texas and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

At least 60% of the brain is fat, and it is known beyond doubt that a healthy brain must have fatty acids to function.

So make sure you are getting a regular supply from eating either wild fish (if you can find a source uncontaminated with mercury) or from taking fatty acid supplements that have been purified to remove heavy metals and toxins.