Omega-3s aka polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) - are "essential" fatty acids, meaning humans need them for good health. Since the body doesn't make them however, we must get them through food. Certain types of fatty fish like halibut, salmon and tuna are good dietary sources of Omega-3 fatty acids. Some vegetarian sources are flaxseed and walnuts.

Research has shown that Omega-3s may reduce the risk of heart disease. Consequently, the American Heart Association recommends the consumption of fatty fish at least twice per week. Because large concentrations of Omega-3s are found in the brain, they also appear to be important to cognitive function. The most abundant Omega-3 fatty acid found in brain cells is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). This important fatty acid (found in salmon) helps to improve memory and learning and reduces oxidative stress in the brain.

Fernando Gomez-Pinilla is a professor of neurosurgery and physiological science at UCLA who studies how the brain is affected by sleep, diet and exercise. Because these variables have been found to affect mental function, Gomez-Pinilla is enthusiastic about the possibility that changes in diet may improve cognitive abilities and counter the effect of aging within the brain.

Studies in the laboratory have found that rodents who are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids experience impaired learning and memory. This appears to cross over to humans. Gomez-Pinilla reviewed over 160 food studies, and his analysis was published in the journal, Nature Reviews Neuroscience. In his review he states, "Dietary deficiency of Omega-3 fatty acids in humans has been associated with increased risk of several mental disorders, including attention-deficit disorder, dyslexia, dementia, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia."

In addition, it was found that Omega-3s acids may enhance learning and memory. "Children who had increased amounts of Omega-3 fatty acids performed better in school, in reading, in spelling and had fewer behavioral problems," Gomez-Pinilla stated.

He emphasized research in Australia which examined 396 students between 6 and 12 years of age who were consuming a drink fortified with Omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients. The students scored higher on tests for verbal intelligence, memory and learning than students in the control group after periods of six months and one year. In Indonesia, the same study was conducted on 394 children. While girls experienced significant improvement in test scores, boys did not.

Symptoms of low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids are:

  • depression and/or mood swings
  • dry skin
  • fatigue
  • heart problems
  • poor circulation
  • memory issues

 The average adult in the U. S. consumes less than one gram of Omega-3 fatty acids daily. The National Institutes of Health recommend a minimum daily consumption of at least two percent of daily calories. Many experts however recommend doubling that amount to ensure good health.

In addition to the foods recommended above, try a natural supplement to ensure adequate daily amounts of Omega-3s in your diet. These can be found through your local whole foods store or through natural supplement websites.