Love your Fats, Love your Brain
Love your fats, love your brain
Following from the latest OMC blog and OMC Menopause Café where we talked about menopause and mental health, I would like to continue the conversation and provide some extra tips on natural ways to boost your mental health.
We know that lifestyle choices can have such a positive impact on mental health and phycological wellbeing, particularly during perimenopause and menopause when women are more at risk due to the decline in oestrogen. And it’s great that research is on our side! As a matter of fact, clinical studies have demonstrated that all the following can be predictive of better mental health: a healthy diet, reduced alcohol consumption, non-smoking, regular physical activity, keeping a regular and healthy sleep pattern, engaging in cultural and social activities, cognitive training, and very importantly managing stress.
While I consider stress management such a vital aspect of mental health (which I be talking about very soon in our blog), in this particular blog I explore in more detail the role of diet, particularly foods rich in ‘good fats’. I will also tell you about my favourite supplements and herbs for a brain boost.
Going back to ‘good fats’, we know that fats may have developed a bad reputation but it is important to change that mentality and understand their importance.
So, what are these so-called ‘good fats’?
Good fats are unsaturated fats, which include polyunsaturated essential fatty acids (PUFAs) and monounsaturated essential fatty acids (MUFAs). They are called “essential” as they cannot be produced by the body and therefore, we need to get them from food or alternatively supplements. And they are called “good” because they simply are good for you – particularly, the two main types of PUFAs, omega-3 and omega-6, have extensive health benefits.
On another hand, saturated fats should be consumed with moderation and trans fats (also known as hydrogenated fats) should be avoided.
An interesting and useful piece of information is that the desired ratio of omega-3 and omega-6 in our bodies is 1:4, but modern Western diets tend to be richer in omega-6 and deficient in omega-3, which can negatively affect this ratio.
How good are ‘good fats’?
Good fats are known to improve cognition and brain function. Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in learning, memory, and mood as they help building and repairing brain cells. Both omega-3 forms, EPA and DHA, are known to have antioxidant properties, reduce cellular stress, improve blood flow to the brain, and influence neurotransmitters. DHA is an essential building block of brain cells.
The benefits of good fats actually go far beyond brain health, as they also play an important role in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D and E), cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation and supporting hormone function.
Which foods are rich in ‘good fats’?
The best source of omega-3 essential fatty acids is wild oily fish, for example, mackerel, sardines, salmon, herring, and anchovies. This is the form best absorbed by the body. Plant-based foods rich in omega-3 include chia seeds and flaxseeds. Food sources of MUFAs include avocado, nuts, such as almonds and Brazil nuts, and extra virgin olive oil.
Processed foods labelled as “low fat” should be avoided as they usually contain high levels of sugar and unnecessary additives.
How about supplements and herbs, can they help?
The best way to get your essential fatty acids, as with any nutrient, is through a balanced diet. However, if you follow a low-fat diet or have a health condition, supplementing may help. In these cases, consider taking a good quality omega-3 EPA:DHA supplement. The best absorbable sources are oily fish or algae. Make sure to check the label for purity (free of contaminants such as PCB and heavy metals) and stability. Other brain-boosting supplements to consider are antioxidants, such as vitamin C and grapeseed extract, and the herbs Gingko and Bacopa, which can improve memory and concentration. And if stress and anxiety are part of the picture, magnesium, ashwagandha, and lemon balm may also be considered.
Please, remember that supplements or herbal remedies should be taken only under the supervision of a qualified health professional.
Dr Vera Martins is a Herbalist and Naturopath at OMC with extensive experience in women’s health and menopause.