omegas and cognitive development

Five essential questions about fatty acids (cognitive development)

We have heard a lot about fatty acids. They play a super important role in cognitive development since the brain is the organ with more fat, therefore, it must be fed. Arnau Vilas, Vitae technician and researcher of agri-food technology, answers five elementary questions to understand in depth what fatty acids are and how they can help our body.

What are fatty acids and what benefits do they have for our body?

Fatty acids are essential components of one of the most important groups of macronutrients in the diet: lipids. Fatty acids acquire different roles in the body. One of the most important roles of fatty acids is the development and maintenance of the cell membrane (the most important part of delimiting a cell with the outside), but other important roles include energy storage, regulation of gene expression or the production of signalling molecules, which can contribute to the maintenance of the inflammatory system or in the regulation of blood pressure, as in the case of prostaglandins.

Does our body naturally produce fatty acids? If not, where can we find them?

Fatty acids can be divided into saturated and unsaturated. The body is capable of producing saturated fatty acids, such as palmitic acid, and also producing oleic acid, which is a type of unsaturated fatty acid. The body cannot synthesize the other unsaturated fatty acids, and that is why they are called essential fatty acids. Among them we find the known omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, consequently, must be ingested through food. Products rich in omega-3 fatty acids (DHA, EPA, ALA) include fish and especially seafood, but also vegetable oils such as flax or rapeseed, and other vegetable products such as nuts. The most important sources of omega-6 fatty acids (GLA, LA) are the vegetable variation, such as nuts, whole grains or soybeans, as well as eggs (in smaller quantities), as they also contain a large proportion of saturated fatty acids.

The source of essential fatty acids is usually vegetable, and that is why it is recommended to eat a diet based mainly on vegetable products, mostly whole and little processed, and as varied as possible.

What is the recommended daily amount of fatty acids?

Although there is a wide variety of fatty acids that can be found naturally in the diet, EFSA and other international organizations focus on recommendations on the intake of total lipids (fat), saturated fatty acids, and essential unsaturated acids such as linoleic ( omega-6), alpha-linolenic (omega-3), EPA (eicosapentanoic, omega-3) and DHA (docosahexanoic, omega-3).

For a healthy adult, an intake of 20 to 35% of dietary lipids (total fat) is recommended, with a recommendation for intake of saturated fatty acids as low as possible

What is the relationship between fatty acids and brain? (for children, learning and ADHD)

An inadequate intake of essential unsaturated fatty acids (especially polyunsaturated acids such as omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids) has been linked to implications in neurological diseases such as depression, Alzheimer in the elderly, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, as well as implications in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder diagnosed especially in children

This is because certain fatty acids, such as gammalinoleic (GLA), EPA and DHA play an important role in maintaining the central nervous system. Particularly, DHA plays a structural role in neuronal membranes, and constitute up to 20% of the dry mass of the brain, while other fatty acids such as EPA and GLA play a fundamental role in normal brain function, although they also have a structural function.

Fatty acids also have an important role in inflammatory processes. What can you tell us about this?

The polyunsaturated fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 have been investigated for different effects they have in the body. One of them is their anti-inflammatory capacity.

Omega-3 fatty acids are the most relevant in this field, as omega-6 fatty acids can lead to the formation of pro-inflammatory molecules such as leukotrienes (LT4). However, there is an exception the GLA that also has a vital importance in anti-inflammation.

Inflammation contributes to a large number of diseases, whether systemic or localized. These inflammatory mechanisms include a large number of molecules, cells and interactions. Many of these interactions and mechanisms can be regulated (inhibited in many cases) by fatty acids such as EPA and DHA (omega-3), as well as the DGLA (omega-6).

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