Fixing Brain Fog Part 3: Dietary Fats
This is the 3rd part of the Fixing Brain Fog blog series. Previously, we discussed what brain fog is and how an imbalance in brain chemistry can lead to brain fog and other symptoms, as well as the effect of carbohydrates on brain function. In this blog and the upcoming blogs in this series, we will dive deeper into the different strategies for restabilizing brain chemistry and eliminating brain fog. In this blog we will explore dietary fat and the effects that they have on the brain. In future blogs we will focus on protein and various other nutrients that can help fix brain fog and other neurological symptoms.
Not all dietary fats are created equal. Just like we previously discussed, processed high-sugar carbohydrates that spike your blood sugar are more detrimental to brain health and function than high fiber, low glycemic carbohydrates. The healthiest fats for your brain include monounsaturated fats like olive oil and the omega-3s found in seafood. One of the most common myths is that dietary fat is bad for you, especially when you look what traditional dieting and weight-loss plans have preached for years. However, dietary fat is one of the most important things you can eat to improve brain health. Most people should be eating more fat in their diet, not less! The difficult part lies in finding the correct type of dietary fats that have an anti-inflammatory effect (omega-3) vs dietary fat that tends to be pro-inflammatory (omega-6). The absolute best fats for your brain are omega-3 fatty acids. Common omega-3 fats include DHA, EPA, and ALA. These omega-3 fatty acids are “essential”; meaning that you can only get these fats through what you eat (your body cannot make them on its own). It is therefore imperative to make an effort to frequently consume these from dietary sources. DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) is linked to cognition and “thinking better”, while EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) is linked to mood regulation and “feeling better”.
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is a vegetarian source of omega-3 fatty acids; you can get this from eating things like flaxseeds, walnuts, and canola oil. However, ALA must be converted by the body to make EPA or DHA; making this a less effective source of usable omega-3 fat for our bodies. What makes ALA less optimal as well is that the conversion from ALA to EPA or DHA is not very efficient in humans, especially if you are a male (research has shown that under 10% of ALA is converted to EPA and less than 5% is converted to DHA in males, while women get roughly double the percentages). Overall, ALA is still an anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acid, but much less potent than EPA or DHA. DHA and EPA are found mostly in fish, seaweed, and other seafood. DHA has been found to improve IQ scores and support neurogenesis, making it a vital nutrient for young children and the development of their brains. There are also sources that show DHA can help prevent brain fog, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Boosting the brain’s amount of EPA has been shown to have a positive effect on improving mood, preventing depression, and eliminating anxiety. Studies with fish oil supplements that have a high EPA to DHA ratio (some state 7:1 as the most effective ratio) showed significant reductions in both depression and anxiety symptoms. The difficult part for most people is getting enough of EPA or DHA into their diet, since it comes largely from fish. People who are vegan or vegetarian find this especially difficult. In their case, fish oil supplementation or supplementation of DHA and EPA is strongly recommended. The best benefit of omega-3 fats on brain health still comes from eating fish and seafood directly; supplements lack cofactors like zinc, selenium, and iron that help maximize the benefits of omega-3s.
It is also imperative to consider the effect that omega-6 fats have on omega-3 fats. Omega-3s should not be looked at as a vitamin or mineral – just getting “enough” omega-3 fats in the diet alone it not good enough. This is because if you are also consuming large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids in your diet, it can have dramatic inflammatory responses on your body and reduce the effectiveness of omega-3s on your body and brain. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential (your body cannot make them on its own) and are an important nutrient for your body. But many believe that the ratio of omega-6 consumption to omega-3 consumption should be either 1:1 or 2:1; many people who eat the standard American diet may be consuming a ratio closer to 15:1 or even 25:1. This excessive intake of omega-6s compared to omega-3s can lead to more inflammation, and more brain fog, depression, and anxiety.
Omega-6s are found in a wide range of foods and refined vegetable oils, including soybean oil that lurks in just about every packaged food container in the grocery store. Unfortunately, certain types of fish (especially farm-raised fish) can have very high amounts of omega-6s and very small amounts of omega-3s. So even eating fish can be detrimental to your brain; it must be the right kind of fish! A good rule of thumb is wild-caught albacore tuna, mussels, oysters, rainbow trout, pink shrimp, and Alaskan salmon are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids and therefore good for brain health; farm-raised fish such as tilapia, carp and bass are not as beneficial.
In summary, making an effort to include omega-3 fats into your diet (largely from fish and seafood options) is one of the best ways to improve brain health. It is also critical to make sure your omega-6 consumption is not too high relative to your omega-3 intake. And certain ingredients like soybean oil should be minimized as much as possible. Soybean oil is found in dressings, mayonnaise, various sauces, and packaged foods and is greatly over-consumed. Soybean oil has more polyunsaturated fat than monounsaturated fat, and it’s one of the leading sources of omega-6 fats in the American diet. A good alternative to soybean oil is either olive oil or avocado oil, both for dressings and sauces or as a base ingredient for things like mayonnaise. Take the time to look into your diet further; read food labels, increase your omega-3 intake, reduce your omega-6 intake, and try to minimize pro-inflammatory ingredients like soybean oil help you brain function optimally!
1. Dow, Mike. The Brain Fog Fix: Reclaim your focus, memory and joy in three weeks. Published and distributed by Hay House Inc. 2015.
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