Fish oil counteracts the damaging effects that junk food can have on the brain, according to a new review of studies by researchers at the University of Liverpool.
The analysis, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, examined findings from 185 research papers from around the world on the impact of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil on brain function.
The research team at the University's Institute of Aging and Chronic Disease found that studies conducted over the past decade indicate high-fat diets disrupt “neurogenesis” — the process that generates new nerve cells — but that diets rich in omega-3s can prevent these negative effects by stimulating the area of the brain that controls feeding, learning, and memory.
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The results also showed that fish oils are likely to play a significant role in stalling refined sugars and saturated fats' ability to inhibit the brain's control on the body's intake of food.
“Body weight is influenced by many factors, and some of the most important of these are the nutrients we consume. Excessive intake of certain macronutrients, the refined sugars and saturated fats found in junk food, can lead to weight gain, disrupt metabolism, and even affect mental processing,” said Lucy Pickavance, M.D.
“These changes can be seen in the brain's structure, including its ability to generate new nerve cells, potentially linking obesity to neurodegenerative diseases. Research, however, has suggested that omega-3 fish oils can reverse or even prevent these effects … [suggesting] that omega-3s might aid weight loss by stimulating particular brain processes.”
High-fat diets block the beneficial action of natural hormones that are secreted after eating to help protect neurons and stimulate their growth, the researchers said. Molecules that stimulate nerve growth are also reduced. But omega-3s restore normal function by interfering with the production of these inflammatory molecules, suppressing triglycerides, and returning these nerve growth factors to normal.
“Fish oils don't appear to have a direct impact on weight loss, but they may take the brakes off the detrimental effects of some of the processes triggered in the brain by high-fat diets,” Dr. Pickavance added. “They seem to mimic the effects of calorie restrictive diets and including more oily fish or fish oil supplements in our diets could certainly be a positive step forward for those wanting to improve their general health.”
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