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Fish: The Brain Food

You’ve often heard fish is good for the brain, but is it all it’s hyped up to be? Or is it another bust?

Let’s examine some of the science to find out.

Fatty fish, especially saltwater fatty fish, are uniquely high in something called omega-3 fatty acids. There are many types of omega-3 fatty acids, but the one most relevant to this discussion is DHA.

DHA is the predominant omega-3 fatty acid found in the brain and eyes. Here’s some fun facts:

  • The brain is the fattiest organ we have, outside of pure fat tissue
  • DHA singularly makes up 10-20% of total fat in the brain
  • Of the omega-3s found in your brain, over 90% are DHA

In short, your brain thinks DHA is critical to its function.

DHA supplements are regularly provided to pregnant mothers during their third trimester, and to the baby up to 18 months of life, for the purpose of ensuring proper brain and retinal development. But that’s not all, DHA has been shown to have benefits in adults as well. For example, higher serum DHA levels are associated with better non-verbal reasoning, mental flexibility, working memory and vocabulary. If that wasn’t enough, a higher DHA to omega-6 ratio has been shown to increase gray matter in the brain (literally bigger brain!).

What’s a good dose?

We want to be ingesting about 2g per day of omega-3s, of which DHA and EPA are the most relevant. Ideally, you’d be eating fatty fish regularly throughout the week. For context, a 3.5 oz. (100g) portion of wild caught salmon contains approximately 1130mg of omega-3’s.

If you opt to use supplements, check the label for the DHA/EPA content and try to hit that 2g total target between these two components (for example 1.5g DHA + 0.5g EPA). There are some important considerations if using supplemental form:

  • Does not contain all the other amazing nutrients contained within fish
  • Unrefrigerated variations are at increased risk for turning rancid
  • High chance of contamination / impurity if not 3rd party verified

To summarize:

Fatty fish can be considered a good brain food. They are uniquely high in omega-3 fats, and especially DHA. More DHA = bigger, better brain and better visual acuity. For gamers and esports athletes, we should always seek to keep our brains and eyes healthy and working efficiently.

References:

Weiser MJ, Butt CM, Mohajeri MH. Docosahexaenoic Acid and Cognition throughout the Lifespan. Nutrients. 2016 Feb 17;8(2):99. doi: 10.3390/nu8020099. PMID: 26901223; PMCID: PMC4772061.

Maughan RJ, Burke LM, Dvorak J, et al. IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:439-455.

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