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Smart Fats for Your Bran | March 25, 2009

Ever have one of those days where you forgot where you put the car keys or can’t remember someone’s name? Those fish oil supplements you’ve been taking may have an additional benefit: they might help you recall where you put the keys.

There has been increasing public interest recently in the health effects of omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish and fish oils - consisting of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) plus eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Most of the interest has been due to the effects of omega 3’s on lowering blood cholesterol. But there are other equally important benefits of DHA for the brain, including memory, intelligence and even eye sight..

Two critical times when the brain is especially sensitive to nutrition are in the womb and during infancy up until age two. DHA is required for optimal brain development and function, so it is essential for pregnant women to get enough. Infants who have low amounts of DHA in their diet have reduced brain development and diminished visual acuity. The increased intelligence and academic performance of breastfed compared with formula- fed infants has been attributed in part to the increased DHA content of human milk. The levels of DHA in breast milk vary widely and are associated with maternal diet. Our diets have changed over the last 20 years—we eat out more and rely on convenience foods. Researchers in British Columbia found that DHA levels in breast milk dropped 50 percent between 1988 and 1998, in part due to diet, including a reduction in fish consumption.

Several other studies have been completed that have found a strong correlation between fish intake and cognitive ability in adults and seniors. This stands to reason because DHA is highest in fish--so once again we have another good reason to eat fish! The best sources of DHA are cold water fish (salmon, Pollock, flounder, sole, tuna and haddock) and seafood. We need about four, 3 ounce servings per week. If you are worried about mercury and other environmental contaminants in fish, you may want to consider supplementation. Pregnant and lactating women should consume 200-300 milligrams of DHA daily, based upon your doctor’s recommendation. If you feed your baby formula, the American Dietetic Association recommends that it be supplemented with a minimum of 0.2 percent of its fat from DHA. Most formulas are now supplemented with DHA, although some have amounts lower than these minimum recommendations. Check the labels or ask the advice of your physician.