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Fats make up sixty percent of the brain and the nerves that run every system in the body. So, it stands to reason that the better the fat in the diet, the better the brain. So, with all the fat eaten by the average American, why don't we have more geniuses in this country? The average American brain is getting enough fat, but the problem is it's not the right kind of fat.
Think of your brain as the master gland that sends chemical messengers throughout the body, telling each organ how to work. An important group of these chemical messengers are the prostaglandins (so-called because they were originally discovered in the prostate gland). Prostaglandins initiate the body's self-repair system. The body needs two kinds of fat to manufacture healthy brain cells (the message senders) and prostaglandins (the messengers). These are omega 6 fatty acids (found in many oils, such as safflower, sunflower, corn, and sesame oils) and omega 3 fatty acids (found in flax, pumpkin seeds and walnuts, and coldwater fish, such as salmon and tuna). The foods from which oil can be extracted are generally the foods highest in essential fatty acids.
Most important to brain function are the two essential fatty acids, linoleic (or omega 6) and alpha linolenic (or omega 3). These are the prime structural components of brain cell membranes and are also an important part of the enzymes within cell membranes that allow the membranes to transport valuable nutrients in and out of the cells. When the cells of the human body - and the human brain - are deprived of the essential fatty acids they need to grow and function, the cells will try to build replacement fatty acids that are similar, but may actually be harmful. Higher blood levels of "replacement fatty acids" are associated with diets that are high in hydrogenated fats and diets that contain excessive amounts of omega 6 fatty acids. Levels of replacement fatty acids have been found to be elevated in persons suffering from depression or Attention Deficit Disorder. A diet rich in omega 3 fatty acids (such as the LNA from flax oil or the EPA and DHA from fish oils) not only provides the body with healthy fats, but it also lowers the blood level of potentially harmful ones, such as cholesterol and, possibly, even reversing the effects of excess trans fatty acids.
Using the lock and key analogy will help you understand how the brain communication system works. Neurotransmitters are biochemical messengers that carry information from one brain cell to another, sort of like sparks flying across the gap between nerve cells. Each cell membrane contains a series of locks. The various message carriers (prostaglandins and neurotransmitters) are like keys. The keys and the locks must match. When the cell membrane is unhealthy because it is made of the wrong kind of replacement fatty acids, the keys won't fit, and brain function suffers. Nutrients may also fail to fit in a mismade lock.
The eye is a perfect example of the importance of getting the right kind of fat. The retina of the eye contains a high concentration of the fatty acid DHA, which the body forms from nutritious fats in the diet. The more nutritious the fat, the better the eye can function. And since most people are visual learners, better eyes mean better brains.
Western diets contain too much of the omega 6 fatty acids and too little of the omega 3's. Omega 3 fatty acids are found in ground flax seeds and flaxseed oil, coldwater fish (primarily salmon and tuna), canola oil, soybeans, walnuts, wheatgerm, pumpkin seeds, and eggs.
Fats for growing brains.
Fats can also influence brain development and performance, especially at either end of life -- growing infants and elderly people. In fact, there are two windows of time in which the brain is especially sensitive to nutrition: the first two years of life for a growing baby and the last couple decades of life for a senior citizen. Both growing and aging brains need nutritious fats. An informative book on best fats for growing brains is: SMART FATS by Dr. Michael Schmidt.
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