How does dietary fat consumption affect the brain?
Thursday, May 3, 2012 at 3:00PM
Dr. Emily Chan in Brain, Brain, attention, depression, diet, memory, omega-3

Did you know that the make up of your cell membrane depends on what you eat? In that sense, you are what you eat. The way your brain talks to your body is via cell-to-cell communication along nerves or neuronal tissue. If you eat a lot of trans fats such as those found in vegetable shortening, fried foods, and arachadonic acid found in red meat, these fats send an inflammatory signal to the nervous system.

Inflammation in the nervous system causes in increase in glutamate, which is an excitatory chemical in the brain. This can lead to symptoms of anxiety, hyperactivity, addictive tendencies and in-attention. Increase in inflammation and glutamate in the brain long term from chronic excessive brain firing causes neuron damage. This contributes to degenerative diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease develop due to the oxidative damage this excessive inflammation produces. Also, consumption of inflammatory fats make cell membranes hard and rigid, blocking cell-to-cell communication.

If you eat lots of omega-3 fats found in fish, flax and walnuts your cell membranes are nice and malleable improving the structure and function of receptors on the cell. This allows for brain chemicals like serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine to communicate better with the cell helping positive mood, attention and memory. Another large component of cell membranes are phospholipids such as phosphatidyl choline and serine, which are found in high concentrations in the brain. They help balance stress hormone levels, decrease anxiety, improve memory, improve mood, and decrease aggression. Phospholipids can be found in lecithin, soy lecithin, egg yolks, sardines and nuts.  

Many studies show a correlation between depression and deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids. According to the journal of Nutrition and Healthy Aging, DHA, which is an omega-3 fatty acid is “one of the major building structures of membrane phospholipids of the brain and absolutely necessary for neuronal function”. The British Journal of Psychiatry, Did a study on prisoners. One group had their regular prison diet, and the other group was supplemented with Omega-3 fats. The prisoners who were given omega-3 fats had a 35% reduction in violent crime in prison. I’ve seen in my practice patients having great symptom improvement from depressive mood, anxiety and improvement in focus on a therapeutic dose of EPA and DHA.

Often times we think of supplements that are neurotransmitter specific first when seeing brain issues, but it is important to remember that basic nutritional sufficiency can make a very large difference in neurology. Be careful of low fat fad diets, as these diets often compromise brain function and lead to teenage learning problems and depression. Your brain needs fat to function, so eat the good fats.

 

Article originally appeared on Naturopathic Doctor San Diego, NET San Diego, Neuro Emotional Technique, Craniosacral Therapy, Stress Reduction (http://modernintegrativemedicine.com/).
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