Written by: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, AdvDip NutMed)
Our brains are primarily made of fats, in fact the brain is 60% fat! (Chang, Ke & Chen, 2009) and these fats are required through dietary sources to maintain structure of the brain, help with development through times of growth and to form the fibres of nerves to enable nerve transmission. This is important for cognition, balanced moods, memory, learning and vision (Kidd, 2007; Haast & Kiliaan, 2015).
Effects on the brain
Essential fatty acids, our Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are essential as they must be obtained through diet as they cannot be synthesised by the body (Chang, Ke & Chen, 2009).
DHA is especially important for the brain. The structure of DHA is rather unique and its functions are involved within nerve synapses in the brain (Paxton, 2015, pp.89-92). Brain tissue has a high concentration of DHA, as well as the retina, testes and sperm. DHA protects the brain against oxidative damage, it aids nerve development and enhances transmission. It is particularly important during times of rapid growth and development, as in pregnancy, new-borns and infancy. Breast milk contains large amounts of DHA as it is vital for the development of the baby’s central nervous system (Chang, Ke & Chen, 2009).
Phosphatidylserine a component of cell membranes and part of the phospholipid family is also another major player when it comes to brain health and function. Phosphatidylserine is particularly concentrated within the regions of the brain. It forms part of the myelin sheath of nerves as well as having a role in cell communication and the transmission of biochemical messages within the central nervous system (Paxton, 2015, p.100). It also regulates the functions of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine, noradrenaline, serotonin and dopamine which are all involved in promoting a good mood and help with concentration and memory (Purves, Augustine & Fitzpatrick, 2001). Phosphatidylserine is also involved in glucose utilisation in the brain as well as displaying antioxidant activity (Paxton, 2015, p.100).
Fats are of particular benefit when it comes to brain health and most certainly not to be feared. All macronutrients serve a purpose within the body and restrictions of some may effect other systems or the body in its entirety. Pease consult a trained professional before making major changes to your diet.
Yours in health,
Chang, C. Y., Ke, D. S., & Chen, J. Y. (2009). Essential fatty acids and human brain. Acta Neurol Taiwan, 18(4), 231-41.
Haast, R. A., & Kiliaan, A. J. (2015). Impact of fatty acids on brain circulation, structure and function. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids (PLEFA), 92, 3-14.
Kidd, P. M. (2007). Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids. Alternative medicine review, 12(3), 207.
Purves, D., Augustine, G.J., Fitzpatrick, D. (2001). Biogenic Amines. Neuroscience 2nd edn. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11035/