Research Findings: Fats Protect Your Brain

Guest article adapted from the Life Extension Foundation

The best strategy for treating mild cognitive impairment is to avoid it in the first place. This means getting plenty of exercise and good sleep, eating a healthy diet, keeping body weight down, avoiding diabetes, and taking the right nutritional supplements before you experience any signs of cognitive decline.

Essential fatty acids are required for many biological functions, including protection from the oxidative effects of free radicals.

Essential fatty acids are also known to be important for good overall brain health. A recent study demonstrated in animal models that supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids actually switched on brain cell genes that contribute to enhanced functioning. These biochemical details may help us understand why diets rich in fish oils and other sources of omega-3 fatty acids are associated with better memory and improved cognition.

One of the omega-3 fatty acids in particular, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), has attracted significant attention for its ability to boost brain function. DHA is found in very high concentrations in cell membranes and is required by developing infant brains. A lack of DHA in a developing brain results in cognitive and learning deficiencies . Studies have shown that DHA helps protect brain cells by suppressing a neurotoxic substance called amyloid-beta, and that supplementation with DHA can reverse the cognitive effects of DHA deficiencies in childhood.

DHA is so valuable to healthy brain function that some experts believe infant formula should be supplemented with it.

Taking steps to improve one’s overall health is highly recommended to help prevent or minimize age-associated mental impairment. For example, exercising regularly and not smoking can reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease and keep arteries open, supplying the brain with essential oxygen and nutrients. Abstaining from alcohol can also help preserve mental function.

Since most people tend to eat less as they age, the consumption of nutrient-rich food is recommended to help prevent nutrient deficiencies. Eating large quantities of foods rich in antioxidants, such as blueberries, may provide protection from age-related mental decline.