Did you know that your brain, besides being tremendously complex, is actually made up of 60% fatty acids? And guess what fatty acid accounts for a large part of this percentage? Something called “docosahexaenoic acid” (DHA).
Your brain is full of nerve cells called “neurons.” Neurons are responsible for communicating electrical signals throughout your brain and the rest of your body. Each neuron has a protective layer. And each protective layer is made up, in part, of one saturated fatty acid and one unsaturated fatty acid. The unsaturated fatty acid is DHA.
Because of its unique size and shape, DHA is needed for neurons to trade neurotransmitters successfully. If you don’t get enough DHA in your diet, your brain will use an omega-6 fatty acid called “docosapentaenoic acid” (DPA). Which doesn’t sound like a big deal — but here’s the really interesting part. Scientists have discovered that DPA doesn’t “fit” nearly as well as DHA, and so communication between your neurons suffers. And that means more unclear thinking, memory problems, and more difficulty learning new things.
There are many clinical trials that have proven that DHA improves cognitive function and memory in animals. In a Japanese trial involving humans, researchers studied whether DHA had a beneficial effect on amnesiac patients. Thirty-nine participants were recruited for the trial. Twenty-one of these patients had mild cognitive dysfunction, 10 were suffering from brain lesions, and eight had Alzheimer’s disease. The patients were either given DHA supplements or a placebo in the form of olive oil. The researchers found that the DHA group showed significant improvement in their immediate memory and attention score when tested. This group also showed an improvement in recalling delayed memories. The researchers concluded that DHA supplementation can improve cognitive dysfunction due to brain damage and aging.
One other interesting point to mention: your brain needs 25% of all the energy available for use in your body. DHA definitely plays a role in supplying some of this energy in the form of slow-burning fat. Make sure you eat a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and consider supplementing with DHA if you are having difficulty with your cognitive skills or memory.