Fatty Acids

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) play a crucial role in the formation and functioning of the brain. These polyunsaturated fatty acids have almost completely disappeared from our modern diet.

Scientific research in recent years has revealed that an unsaturated fatty acid deficiency (HUFA) or a disturbed balance of these fatty acids may play an important role in behavioural disorders, learning problems, dyslexia and autistic spectrum disorders. These fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) are found in fish, flaxseed oil, certain nuts and to a lesser extent in leafy greens. They are essential in the normal development of the brain as well as in our mental and emotional health. Pregnant women should take omega-3 supplements and children under three years of age also require large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) for a healthy development of their brain. Additionally, research has shown that the administration of omega-3 fatty acids leads to better results than the omega-6 fatty acids, plus the fact that especially EPA rather than DHA gives favourable results. For this reason various omega-3 fatty acid supplements have been marketed containing an EPA/DHA ratio of at least 4:1. The standard fish oil contains a 3:2 ratio.

According to Dr. Alex Richardson, indications of an omega-3 fatty acid deficiency are:

  1. Excessive thirst, frequent urination, rough or dry skin, dry lustreless hair, dandruff and soft brittle nails.
  2. Allergic propensity: eczema, asthma, hay fever, etc.
  3. Visual symptoms such as poor night vision, hypersensitivity to light and reading disorders such as dancing letters.
  4. Attention disorders: quick distraction, poor concentration and memory disorders.
  5. Emotional hypersensitivity: in particular depression tendencies, intense mood swings and excessive fears.
  6. Sleeping problems: in particular being unable to wind down at night and having difficulty waking up in the morning.

Vegetarian sources of omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseed oil only contain ALA (alpha-linoleic acid) that is not always properly metabolized into EPA and DHA. For this reason direct supplementation of EPA/DHA in the form of fish oil is preferred. Research has shown that the ideal EPA intake is about 500mg/day but some people require even more.

DHA is especially important in the structure of brain cell membranes, particularly in early childhood when the brain grows and later on in life to retain flexibility of the membranes.

In children, 20% of the brain consists of DHA. EPA plays an essential part in the short term regulation of brain functions such as hormonal balance, the immune function and the bloodstream. EPA is equally important in reducing infections, for instance in the digestive tract. Both fatty acids are indispensable for all cell membranes since they regulate the nourishment flow to the cell. They are also involved in the release and reabsorption of neurotransmitters (chemicals that are essential in stimulus transfer between neurons).