Omega-3 and 6 for Brain Health

By Angela Rightout , published Mar 15, 2019

Fatty Acids and Healthy Aging

New studies show promising evidence that fatty acids received from seeds, oils and nuts may promote healthy aging. The findings from these two new studies add to current evidence that fatty acids omega 3 and 6 can promote brain health.

Researchers at the University of Illinois conducted two separate studies. The participants were between the ages of  65-75. The idea of these studies was to analyze the different parts of the brain, its cognitive performance and its relationship with the nutrient patterns found in the blood. These nutrient patterns specifically come from fatty acids omega-3 and 6 ALA.

These aren’t the first studies that seek to understand how the Fish has DHA/EPA
brain ages and its connection with fatty acids. But these two studies differ from similar ones. According to the researchers, most studies look at how one fatty acid affects the brain versus how combined fatty acids work together to promote brain health. Even more so, the researchers wanted to determine if omega 3 ALA fatty acids received from seeds, oils and nuts could be as beneficial as omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA which are received from fish and fish oil.


Before we get into the findings of the two reports, let’s discuss the difference between fatty acids received from fish and fish oil and fatty acids received from seeds, nuts and oil.  As mentioned before, previous studies have looked at the effects of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA and their effects on the brain. But let’s get a quick lesson on the difference between DHA/EPA and ALA.

There are 11 types of omega-3s but the three main types are ALA, EPA and DHA. ALA stands for alpha-linolenic acid. EPA is an acronym for eicosapentaenoic. DHA means docosahexaenoic acid. EPA/DHA  are long chain fatty acids while ALA is a shorter chain fatty acid. Sources say that ALA is the only true essential fatty acid because it can not be made in the body and must be obtained from your diet. Whereas EPA/DHA can be made in the body but only in small amounts. These amounts are not adequate enough to obtain a solid amount of nutrients. So it’s important to obtain DHA/EPA from your diet as well.

Nuts and Seeds have ALA
DHA/EPA are important for the body because they help with inflammation, heart health plus brain function. According to an article published in Healthline, omega-3 deficiency is linked to lower intelligence, depression and heart disease among many other health ailments. So if the body doesn’t convert ALA to EPA/DHA many people wonder why they should take ALA. But ALA has its own health benefits.  Don't be fooled, it's still helpful to take omega-3 ALA supplements or ingest foods that have ALA as well. ALA benefits include:

Healthy Inflammation Response

Digestive Support

Acts as an Antioxidant

Great for Skin

Maintains Brain Function

The Brain

Although the two studies had the same goal, to find out howThe Brain
fatty acids affect the aging brain--each study researched two separate parts of the brain. The firsts study focused on the frontoparietal network. This brain network plays an important role in fluid intelligence. Fluid intelligence describes the part of your brain that gives you the ability to solve problems you may have never encountered.  But according to the study, this part of the brain tends to decline early even for people who age healthily. In the second study, the researchers analyzed the white matter structure of the fornix. This is the group of nerve fibers at the center of your brain that is imperative to your memory. The fornix is one of the first brain regions to deteriorate in Alzheimer's disease.

Study 1 and its Findings

In the first study, the researchers found correlations between blood levels that contained omega-3 fatty acids ALA  and fluid intelligence. The participants who had higher blood levels with these nutrients had larger left frontoparietal cortexes. The size of the frontoparietal cortex predicts the performance of your fluid intelligence. Which means higher levels of the ALA omega fatty acids in the blood resulted in larger frontoparietal cortexes and better fluid intelligence.

Brain Health

Study 2 and its Findings

The second study discovered that the size of the participant's brain’s fornix was associated with a balance of omega-3s and Omega-6s in their blood.  According to the study, the more robust the fornix is, the better the memory preservation is in the elderly. More omega-3 and 6 in the blood resulted in a larger fornix meaning better memory.

The Take-Away

These studies add to other reports that claim omegas are good for brain health. However, these differ. They discovered that a group of nutrients may work together to support brain health versus one nutrient and its effect on the brain. These findings may be important and can help with adjustments in the western diet. The western diet is often unbalanced and has large amounts of omega-6 and low amounts of omega-3. These studies also discovered that omega-3 ingested from seed, nuts and oils can be beneficial for the brain too.

Written by Angela Rightout

author angela

Angela Rightout is an enthusiastic, innovative writer with extensive experience in content writing, journalism, videography and social media. She earned her bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Loyola University Chicago. She is passionate about well-researched content.

Angela enjoys writing on a broad range of topics from health and wellness to food, technology, entertainment and news.


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