The immune system is probably the most highly connected system in your body. It monitors and records all the major events in your life (as your immune system sees them, anyway), intervenes when necessary, and communicates extensively with your whole-body network of nerves and blood vessels. Your brain even has its own immune system, with specialized cells assigned to care for your hard-working brain cells.
Like your heart, your brain never really gets time off, and is constantly forging new links among older and younger brain cells as your life progresses. And however important it is for cells to clear out their junk during rejuvenation, this renewal process is all the more critical for your brain cells and their highly-trained immune bodyguards.
What’s fat got to do with it?
Mental health disorders like anxiety and depression are on the rise, and immune balance is recognized as contributing to them. The quality of fats in the diet appears to be particularly crucial — not surprising, really, when you consider that brain tissue is composed mainly of fats!
The fats you eat are the ones that end up in all your cells’ membranes, and the ones that are most ideal for brain function are omega-3 fats. On the other hand, junky, fried, and highly-processed foods often contain fats that can alter healthy balance between immune offense and defense functions in the brain and nervous system.
How do omega-3s make a difference in the brains?
- Omega-3s improve immune balance within and between cells, so they keep up a vibrant defense without going overboard. An excessive immune response is now scientifically accepted as a factor in depression.
- Omega-3s make it easier for brain cells to create new connections as well as relinquish old ones they no longer use, by making their cell membranes more fluid and flexible. This is the essence of neuroplasticity, at a basic chemical level — though staying mentally, socially, and physically active are just as important at the whole-human level!
- The brain can also use omega-3s for creating pro-resolving mediators (PRMs), which are omega-3s’ hidden superpower. Your brain loves PRMs because they help clean up after an immune response so your brain cells can devote their full attention to your cognitive activity.
Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when you’ve decided to nourish your brain and mental health better with omega-3s:
- Take a look at the natural level of PRMs in any omega-3 supplement you are considering. Higher is better, yet many supplements don’t even put their PRM contents on the product label.
- Besides your brain, your eyes, heart, skin, joints, and the rest of you also really need omega-3s. Regularly eating foods that provide omega-3s is as important as choosing the right omega-3/PRM supplement, and ensuring the sustainability of omega-3 foods and supplements is critically important.
For a deeper dive
Interested in hearing — straight from the researchers themselves — how omega-3s impact mood? Here’s a link to a great recent article that describes how omega-3s aid brain and immune function. It also tallies up a great deal of evidence from recent studies, for some convincing reading.