The Surprising Brain-Boosting Properties Of Salmon

Salmon is not called a ‘brain food’ for no reason. It is an excellent source of Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs). Omega-3 is an essential component of the central nervous system, maintaining the structural integrity of neurons and the retina. The plethora of benefits of salmon are not limited to the CNS; however, this will be the focus of this article, and once you have read it, there is no doubt that salmon will become an integral element of your diet.

What Are Omega-3 Fatty Acids?

The body is able to produce small amounts of Omega-3 naturally; however, this is not adequate to fulfill the brain’s requirements. Therefore, it is considered an essential fatty acid, meaning that it is necessary to include it in your diet to reap the benefits.
The key Omega-3 fatty acids of interest in salmon are the long-chain type called EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is of particular importance since it makes up 40% of the total fatty acids in the brain[1]Bos, D.J., et al., Effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on human brain morphology and function: What is the evidence? Eur Neuropsychopharmacol, 2016. 26(3): p. 546-61.; however, they both carry health benefits and brain-boosting properties and will be described collectively as Omega-3 PUFAs.

5 Reasons Why Salmon Is Good For The Brain

1. Omega-3 Is A Structural component of the brain

Omega-3 is found in the membranes of brain cells and contributes to the membrane fluidity to ensure that nerve cells are able to receive and produce electrical signals. Cells’ ability to respond to these signals is essential for a healthy brain and underpins signals that enable movement, thinking, memory, and many other cognitive functions. Having low levels of Omega-3 may impair this process leading to a slower response to signaling and/or poor eyesight.

2. Omega-3 May Help With Age-Related Cognitive Decline

As the aging population grows, with it comes age-related changes in cognitive functions referring to tasks such as remembering, thinking, and decision making. These are tasks that we take for granted during our younger years, and they can become more challenged in our older years. There have been some systematic studies that have shown that Omega-3 in the diet produced positive benefits in cognitive functions, including short term and working memory[2]Martí Del Moral, A. and F. Fortique, Omega-3 fatty acids and cognitive decline: a systematic review. Nutr Hosp, 2019. 36(4): p. 939-949..

3. Omega-3 May Help Prevent Depression

Depression is a huge economic burden, with cases becoming more prevalent in the last 100 years[3]Deacon, G., et al., Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and the treatment of depression. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr, 2017. 57(1): p. 212-223.. Some studies have shown a relationship between a higher intake of fatty fish in the diet with reduced depression-related symptoms; a growing body of evidence supports the inadequate intake of Omega-3 from the diet as a potential contribution to depression[4]Appleton, K.M., P.J. Rogers, and A.R. Ness, Updated systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids on depressed mood. Am J Clin Nutr, 2010. 91(3): p. 757-70. in particular in women[5]Colangelo, L.A., et al., Higher dietary intake of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids is inversely associated with depressive symptoms in women. Nutrition, 2009. 25(10): p. 1011-9.. It is not clear the mechanisms of action, and there is conflicting scientific evidence, so there may be many other contributing factors. Still, it is an excellent idea to include salmon in your diet, particularly if you are prone to suffering from mood disorders.

4. Omega- 3 is Anti-inflammatory

Many of the benefits of Omega-3 is attributed to their anti-inflammatory properties[6]Layé, S., et al., Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Brain: Physiological Mechanisms and Relevance to Pharmacology. Pharmacol Rev, 2018. 70(1): p. 12-38.. Inflammation underlies many health conditions, including cancer and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. While there are benefits to some inflammation, a balance needs to be reached to ensure that it is not damaging to our health. A study relating to patients with Alzheimer’s disease and supplementation with Omega-3 was shown to reduce the levels of molecules associated with inflammation in the blood[7]Vedin, I., et al., Effects of docosahexaenoic acid–rich n−3 fatty acid supplementation on cytokine release from blood mononuclear leukocytes: the OmegAD study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2008. 87(6): p. 1616-1622., the use of fish oil and supplementation is continuing to be explored in such conditions.

5. Let’s Not Forget Vitamin B12

There is no doubt that salmon is an excellent source of the Omega-3 PUFAs, but it is also rich in vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is vital for brain health, ensuring the correct function and development of brain cells. Vitamin B12 also has a supportive role in the development of the myelin sheath – myelin covers nerve fibers and assists with signaling[8]Pawlak, R., S.E. Lester, and T. Babatunde, The prevalence of cobalamin deficiency among vegetarians assessed by serum vitamin B12: a review of literature. Eur J Clin Nutr, 2014. 68(5): p. 541-8., a depletion in vitamin B12 may result in altered signaling, which is essential for the correct function of the central and peripheral nervous system.

Don’t Delay, Add Salmon To Your Diet Today

Mental health, physical health, and social health all contribute to the general well-being of a person. Nutrition plays a very important supporting role in our well-being, and given the benefits of eating salmon, it is always going to be a win, win situation by including salmon in the diet several times a week.

Now you know the benefits of including salmon in your diet, don’t forget to share this article with your loved ones to spread the word.


Written by Dr Tracey Evans

Tracey has a PhD in Neuroscience from the University of Plymouth, an MSc in Molecular Neuroscience and a BSc (Hons) Biomedical Sciences.

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