Omega-3 essential fatty acids are an important part of a healthy diet and have been shown to play a critical role in brain health. The brain comprises 60% fat, and omega-3 fatty acids make up a significant portion of this fat. These are necessary for brain function because they are a substantial component of the brain's cell membranes. They help regulate the communication between cells and are involved in forming new neurons. One of the benefits of omega-3s for brain health is their role in reducing inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to changes in mood and the ability to manage stress. Omega-3s have anti-inflammatory properties that can help to protect the brain from damage caused by inflammation. Studies have shown that adequate intake of omega-3s can improve cognitive function, including memory and attention.
As part of good health, we must ensure that we have appropriate and balanced amounts of omega-3-derived fatty acids in the body. Omega-3s are 'essential' fatty acids as our body cannot make them, and we must eat them in our diet. Once we have consumed omega-3s, our body's biochemistry works to metabolise these building blocks into important compounds for our health, such as hormones, immune regulating compounds and structural components of the brain.
Interestingly, this balance is determined by diet and genetics.
In humans, omega 3's are processed through a series of reactions that convert the essential fatty acids found in foods into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Both EPA and DHA have roles in the human brain; DHA is a structural component of our nervous tissue and EPA is a neurological messenger. A recent research review notes that increasing DHA levels in stressed participants reduced their perception of that stress and helped balance stress hormones such as cortisol.
What can our genes tell us?
A key enzyme in the omega-3 metabolic pathway is delta-5-desaturase (D5D), a rate-limiting step affecting the efficiency of the conversion process into DHA and EPA. The human FADS1 gene encodes D5D, and those with genetic variations in this gene have been found to have reduced D5D activity, suggesting that individually we require tailored amounts of omega-3s.
What does this mean for our health?
EPA and DHA can also be obtained by eating oily fish; however, evidence shows that only a quarter of the UK population regularly consume oily fish as part of their diet, missing out on these crucial fatty acids. Knowing your genetic ability to convert omega 3, plus considering your current dietary habits, can help you establish a personalised diet and supplement recommendations designed to optimise your omega-3 intakes. If you think this would be helpful, please book a nutritional genomics appointment and accompanying test with me. We can work together to build healthier habits for life to reduce and improve your wellness goals.