Omega-3s and Brain Health: Concussion Prevention?

on May 08, 2022

Did you know that omega-3s are essential for brain health? Recent studies are also showing possible treatment for symptoms of brain injuries? (1) One study looked at the omega-3 levels of athletes who are at risk for head trauma and the results are shocking!

Why Are Omega-3s Important For Brain Health?

The human brain is made up of 15% omega-3 (DHA) and 60% of the brain is fat!

The omega-3s from fish oil, play a very important part in cognition and brain function. They are also crucial for cardiovascular health as well.

Omega-3s support brain blood flow, helps with the growth of brain tissue, provides communication between neurons, protects the membranes of the brain cells, along with supporting memory with the possibility of preventing neurodegenerative disorders including depression and anxiety. 

Do Our Bodies Produce Omega-3s?

The short answer is no. The human body cannot produce omega-3s. This means we must get them from our diet or supplements.

Our Western diet is many times lacking in omega-3s. The over consumption of processed foods, sugar and omega-6 has led to an imbalance in the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in our diets. This imbalance can cause many problems including inflammation throughout the body. Conditions linked to inflammation are cancer, heart disease, asthma or diabetes to name a few.

Why Are Omega-3s Crucial For Athletes?

Have you seen the movie Concussion? In this fact-based, Will Smith movie, several NFL football players were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries. (TBI) There was a back and forth between the players and the team owners as to what was causing TBI but in the end, the constant hitting of football helmets seemed to be the cause of many of these injuries. 

Some researchers have turned to omega-3s as an innovative approach in trying to prevent the brain from impact injuries. 

A study was done on two female (Spanish) soccer teams. 24 players from each team were given 3.5 grams per day of either olive oil or DHA rich fish oil. Measurements were taken on reaction time and precision time. After 4 weeks of fish oil supplementation, there was a significant improvement in the players with neuromotor function. (2)

Soccer players perform a passing movement which is called a "header" where soccer balls repeatedly hit their heads during a match. Some soccer players who have had multiple concussions wear a headband to absorb the impact. Other sports have taken on new rules and equipment to better protect the brain as well.

But is that enough? Is it possible that omega-3s have a preventative effect?

D1 Collegiate Football Players: Index on Omegas

In the Journal of Athletic Training, a study published on 404 football players or athletes was conducted on their level of omega-3s or an index on omegas. The thinking behind the study was that football players are considered to be an at-risk group for cardiovascular disease and head trauma and the study was to determine how much omega-3s do these players have in their bodies? The results were very surprising.

In measuring the amount of omega-3s or the omega index the participants had, NO PLAYERS had a low-risk omega-3 index. 34% of the football players had an index considered high risk. 66% had an index considered intermediate - but NO players had a low risk omega index.

You can conclude that the data showed that football players or football athletes may be deficient in DHA and EPA omega-3s. Because there were no players associated with low risk, also puts these players at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease later in life. (3)

What does this tell us? How much omegas do we need?

Omega-3s: The Right Amount From The Right Source

If you do your own research you will soon discover that the triglyceride form of omega-3s, the form naturally found in fish, is the form your body most easily absorbs. It’s also more expensive, but…it may be worth it. 

If you eat fish that are rich in DHA and EPA’s such as salmon, trout and sardines, these may be very good choices to get omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. If you supplement with an omega product, look for a product that has the triglyceride form of omega-3s and one that is high in DHA and EPAs. 

The recommended amount varies depending on your age, sex and health conditions. Athletes may require more and if you are in your 80’s you may need less. Some recommend between 500-2000 mg of combined EPA and DHAs depending on need. But it is the DHA and EPA levels that should be reviewed when choosing an omega supplement. You want those levels stated on the label to evaluate the formula properly.

Or make sure you have 2-3 dinners per week of fresh caught, non-farmed salmon! 

 

References:

1. https://doi.org/10.3171/2020.3.JNS20183

2. Guzmán JF, Esteve H, Pablos C, Pablos A, Blasco C, Villegas JA. DHA- Rich Fish Oil Improves Complex Reaction Time in Female Elite Soccer Players. J Sports Sci Med. 2011;10(2):301-305. Published 2011 Jun 1.

3. Anzalone A, Carbuhn A, Jones L, et al. The Omega-3 Index in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Collegiate Football Athletes. J Athl Train. 2019;54(1):7-11. doi:10.4085/1062-6050-387-18

 

 

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