Brain Protection from Omega-3 Fatty Acids Plus Several Other Health Benefits
You may not realize this, but your brain comes with its own “bodyguard” of sorts – called the Blood Brain Barrier. Researchers have found one way we can help keep this barrier strong.
The blood-brain barrier (BBB) is a network of blood vessels that allow the entry of essential nutrients into the brain while blocking other, more harmful, substances such as blood-borne bacteria and toxins. New research has discovered that a nutrient, known for its protection against heart disease, may also be critical in maintaining the BBB.
Chenghua Gu, an associate professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School has found that the blood-brain barrier remains closed by suppressing transcytosis – a process for transporting molecules across cells in vesicles, or small bubbles. Lipids (or fats) are important in this process – especially omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3’s are essential to the diet and play a crucial role in brain function as well as normal growth and development. Foods rich in omega-3’s include fish such as salmon, tuna and halibut.
Dr. Gu has found that Mfsd2a is a transporter protein that moves DHA (an omega-3 fatty acid) into the cell membrate. Without this transporter protein, lab mice were found to have leaky blood brain barriers.
Other Health Benefits from Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Getting adequate amounts of Omega-3’s are important for health and may help with the following conditions:
• High Cholesterol - Those who get regular dietary intake of omega-3’s tend to have increased HDL (good) cholesterol levels and decreased triglycerides.
• High Blood Pressure – several clinical studies suggest that fish oil may help lower blood pressure.
• Heart Disease – EPA and DHA may help reduce risk factors for heart disease, including blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure as above. It may also help prevent and treat atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
• Stroke – large populations studies suggest that omega-3’s may help reduce risk of stroke by as much as 50%
• Diabetes – as people with Type 2 diabetes often have high triglyceride levels, these can help lower these to improve health. It may also lower levels of apoproteins, a marker of diabetes.
• Rheumatoid arthritis – several small studies suggest that fish oil may help reduce symptoms of RA, including joint pain and morning stiffness.
• Osteoarthritis – while more studies are needed, omega 3’s may help with osteoarthritis as well, including reduced joint pain and stiffness, increased grip strength and improved walking pace.
• Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) – several small studies suggest that EPA and fish oil could help reduce symptoms of lupus such as fatigue and joint pain.
• Osteoporosis – omega-3’s may help increase levels of calcium in the body and improve bone strength.
• Depression – although studies aren’t all consistent, some have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may help improve symptoms of depression when used in combination with an anti-depressant more than those who used the medication alone.
• ADHD – it is thought that children with ADHD may have low levels of certain essential fatty acids, including EPA and DHA, so ensuring a regular source of these nutrients may help improve symptoms. Again, study results have been mixed.
• Cognitive decline – reduced intake of omega-3’s has been associated with an increased risk of age-related cognitive decline and dementia.
• Cancer – consuming omega-3’s may be of benefit in reducing the risk of certain cancers, including colon, breast and prostate.
Benjamin J. Andreone, Chenghua Gu et al. Blood-Brain Barrier Permeability Is Regulated by Lipid Transport-Dependent Suppression of Caveolae-Mediated Transcytosis. Neuron, 2017; 94 (3): 581 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.03.043
University of Maryland Medical Center
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