If you are interested in promoting and maintaining a healthy human brain, you will likely find the book, “Brain-Building Nutrition: How Dietary Fats and Oils Affect Mental, Physical, and Emotional Intelligence” by Michael A. Schmidt, Ph.D, to be informative and potentially beneficial. The author has a background in the “hard” sciences (i.e., molecular medicine) and collaborates with NASA scientists in the field of metabolism and human performance.
Initially, the book provides an introduction to the importance of fat and oils, as the human brain is nearly 60% fat. Although the daily news on your television tells you that all fat is “bad,” it is not true! Actually, it is true that the brain can get into big problems when we put the wrong fats and oils into our mouth.
Dr. Schmidt lists at least 50 disorders that are associated with poor fat and oil nutrition, such as bipolar disorder, age related memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and multiple sclerosis.
“Brain fats” are building blocks for the brain. 75% of myelin (i.e., insulates the cellular axons to speed communication) comes from fat, and cell membrane synapses have a very high concentration of long-chain fatty acids. Moreover, receptor cell membranes contain molecules of phospholipids.
The author provides a high level of detail of and focus on important brain fats including:
DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid)
DHA is a long chain omega-3 fatty acid and your diet can be (or not) an essential source of DHA. A major sources of DHA is cold water fish (e.g. salmon, mackerel, herring, etc.)
ALA (Alpha-Linolenic Acid)
ALA is an omega-3 fatty acid that the body needs to produce DHA (discussed above). Also, ALA is important in the messenger function of nerves. ALA is found in a small number of foods, such as flaxseed oil and hemp seed oil.
GLA (Gamma-Linolenic Acid)
GLA is not truly a brain fat. GLA is converted into PGE1 (Prostaglandin E1) which in turn has a significant effect on brain function, such as reducing inflammatory processes.
Other fatty acids discussed include phosphatidylcholine (PC) and phosphatidylserine (PS).
Signs of fatty acid imbalance include dry skin, frequent urination, excessive thirst, brittle nails, irritability, etc. Blood tests (i.e., red blood cell fatty acid profiles or plasma fatty acid profiles) are useful to determine fatty acid status. However, blood tests do no precisely reflect brain levels. Yet, the good news is that if an individual makes dietary changes in an attempt to improve his or her fatty acids, “blood values will likely show improvement” (pg. 59).
Information on diet and supplements (e.g., fish oil, etc.) are discussed and the appendixes provide specific information on omega-3 food sources, mercury levels in many fish, and more.
The author advocates “The Smart-Fat Diet” whereby the key appears to be learning how to balance total fat with adequate essential fatty acids. The author also includes some important information for vegetarians.
Dr. Schmidt reports that most diets today contain too much omega-6 and too little omega-3. Balance, balance, balance! Even excessive omega-3 has its own problems. (e.g., tinnitus). Additionally, “increasing antioxidant food and nutrients is a must when fatty acid intake is increased” (pg. 195) (e.g., vitamin E is one example).
Discussions of how to obtain high quality oils, phospholipid supplements (i.e., phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine) and problems with low fat diets are also covered in some detail. Helpful appendixes are provided, such as “14 strategies for healing with fats and oils.”
I recommended this book for those of us interested in brain health, and I found the practical information on food sources very helpful. The next step is to talk with my internist to get these blood tests.
Alan T. Fisher, PhD
Reference (with link to Amazon)
Michael A. Schmidt, Ph.D. (2006). Brain-Building Nutrition: How Dietary Fats and Oils Affect Mental, Physical, and Emotional Intelligence (3rd Ed.). Frog Books.