Which fats protect your brain?

This one is dedicated to all of you who ask me about keeping your brain healthy as you age.

Which is to say, most of you. It’s a concern of mine, too. After all, who doesn’t want to stay sharp well into their 80s, 90s, and even beyond? So I’m happy to tell you about the two new studies I just came across. Especially since they’re about one of my favorite supplements: fish oil.

Now if you’ve been with me for a while, you know that I talk about fish oil a lot. And with good reason. It’s been shown to help with everything from heart health to depression. And now these studies are showing that the fatty acids in fish oil (polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs), are essential for keeping certain brain structures intact.

And those structures? They’re responsible for intelligence and memory. Which means you definitely want to keep them strong for as long as possible.

Of course, this isn’t the first time research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids (and one omega-6 fatty acid) can help the brain age gracefully.

But this one interested me because the author understood the importance of investigating groups of nutrients together, rather than in isolation. Splitting out different nutrients, instead of studying them as they exist in nature, is typical of the conventional Big Pharma model.

That’s not how nature works, though. And it’s not how our bodies work. When we eat a piece of fish, our body doesn’t separate each omega 3 into its own compartment and react to them individually. We process the whole food.

Which is why I’ve always said that nutritional supplements should not be studied in the same manner as pharmaceuticals. I’m happy someone other than me is saying that.

The results of the first study showed that the PUFAs alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), stearidonic acid (SDA), and eicosatrienoic acid (ETE) work together to bolster “fluid intelligence.” Fluid intelligence is what lets you solve a brand new problem — one you’ve never seen before. And it’s often the first part of the brain to falter as we get older.

Here’s what’s interesting about the combo of ALA, DSA, and ETE working in this way. It’s possible that those fatty acids have brain-protecting effects of their own. Or it’s possible that they’re effective because they’re converted into the eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that are found in fish oil.

Which would add another important benefit to their already impressive resume. EPA and DHA have been proven to reduce inflation, oxidative stress, and platelet aggregation. They also improve blood pressure and help arteries function better. And both of those things are also important for brain health.

The second study looked at memory and the white matter of the brain. And the researchers found that one specific part of the white matter, the fornix, helps mediate the relationship between PUFAs and memory. The fornix is especially vulnerable in Alzheimer’s disease.

The good news is that this white matter loss responds well to…you guessed it: a high-quality fish oil supplement.

And don’t forget about diet. While fish oil is my recommended source of PUFAs, vegans and vegetarians can get them from nuts, seeds, and oils. And everyone can benefit from incorporating more healthy fats like PUFAs and MUFAs (monounsaturated fatty acids like you find in avocado and macadamia nut oil) into their menus. Research shows people who follow a diet that focuses on wholesome whole foods and healthy fats, and keeps sugar to a minimum (similar to the A-List Diet) are likely to have less brain atrophy.

So, the truth is finally out there…again. Good fats are good for you. Learn which ones they are and eat them with a hearty appetite.