(Part 1 of a 2 part series on Basic Brain Nutrition)
Whether you want better brain performance in school, the office, or at home, or are concerned about avoiding serious diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's, the nutritional considerations for a healthy, happy brain and nervous system remain the same.
The most basic are:
#1. Essential fatty acids for the structure and fluidity of nerve membranes, and for their anti-inflammatory properties.
#2. Particular amino acids from protein to provide raw materials to make the right brain chemicals, (AKA neurotransmitters).
#3. B vitamins necessary to convert the amino acids to neurotransmitters and neuropeptides so the brain cells can communicate.
The Right Fats are Critical
Remember that as your nerves pass messages from one to another, they are actually transmitting electricity, and that this occurs efficiently in a more fluid medium, as opposed to one that is thick and stodgy. The cell membranes of people who eat a lot of trans-fats quickly get thick and stodgy. Whereas the longer chain essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, from fish oil or krill oil, allow for much greater fluidity and better transmission in the membranes of your nerves. In the process, DHA, being an essential part of the myelin sheath, also provides for better insulation down the nerve just like an extension cord with a fully intact outer layer that isn't frayed. Therefore the impulses travel to where they need to go more quickly and efficiently, without shorting.
Essential Fats Provide Hormonal Benefits for the Brain
Essential fats are also vital for normal hormonal production and function, which can exert a huge effect on your brain. Besides the fact that the prostaglandins produced from essential fats like EPA, DHA, and GLA (from borage or evening primrose oils), play a major role in actual hormone production, greater fluidity in your cell membranes means that the hormone receptors embedded in them have increased sensitivity, allowing for more effective hormonal signals. And if you doubt the effects of hormone balance on brain function, just go talk to someone who has gone through menopause, or andropause (in men), and they will likely relay their frustration at their brain function going south as their hormone levels dropped. At the same time, people find their energy drops.
Essential Fats Fight Inflammation and Increase Energy
A happy brain is an energized brain, and something that can immediately kill the energy production in your central nervous system is inflammation. One of the primary benefits of EPA, DHA, and GLA is that they are potent anti-inflammatories.
Many of you have heard me talk repeatedly about the importance of producing energy through healthy function of your cellular furnaces called mitochondria. Inflammation knocks out your mitochondria's ability to use oxygen and produce energy. Low energy means poor function. Talk to virtually anyone going through a lot of inflammation, and ask them how their brain is doing, and they will quickly confirm that they can't remember squat, at least in the short term, and that they are not happy. In fact they are likely to be depressed and / or anxious.
As mentioned above, essential fats help offset this effect. This is where GLA, an omega-6 essential fat from borage or evening primrose comes into play. It, along with the omega-3 EPA from fish or krill, produce two types of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, which work better together than either alone. (DHA's anti-inflammatory effects are more indirect, and its roles are more structural.) For this reason an excellent fish oil product is Synergy-3 by Optimum Health Vitamins. In addition to supplying the better absorbed non-esterified form of EPA and DHA from fish oil, this formula also contains some borage oil. In addition, it supplies oleic acid from olive oil, which, although it is not essential, possesses anti-inflammatory properties. (This is what represents the "9" in "3.6.9")
Krill Oil is My Number One Choice
With all that all said, if I had to...that is absolutely HAD to...choose one essential fat supplement, it would be Neptune Krill Oil. Even though in the end I think it is optimum is to take both krill oil and the above mentioned oil blend, the EPA and DHA in krill oil is naturally packaged-up in phospholipids, yielding a superior delivery form. This makes it extremely easy to absorb, virtually 100% into your blood stream. As well, this also means deeper penetration into all the membranes of your cells, most notably those of the nervous system.
This includes the membranes of all your cellular organelles, including your mitochondria, where it exerts potent anti-inflammatory effects, yielding better oxygen utilization and more energy (i.e. ATP production.) And it’s not just because of the EPA/DHA content. Krill also contains an extremely beneficial carotenoid called Astaxanthin, which comes from the plankton the krill eat. Astaxanthin is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory in its own regard, and it also helps your cells clear lactic acid, which positively effects energy production.
The next mid-month segment of this article will cover the right amino acids for healthy neurotransmitter production, including acetyl-l-carnitine, (which is actually not an amino acid, but much closer in structure to a B-vitamin.)
Disclaimer: The above information is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your physician.