Good Fat for Healthy Brains
We don’t normally think of our brains as having anything to do with fat. However, about 50 per cent of our brain is actually made up of many different types of fatty acids. While some of these fatty acids are bad, others are good—and may be beneficial in treating a number of serious brain conditions.
Two particularly important fatty acids in the brain are docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid (ARA). The two are essential in regulating mood, sleep, blood flow and inflammation of the brain.
DHA is found in foods like fish that contain high amounts of omega-3 fats. Research has found that people with diets rich in such fish have lower rates of serious brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and bipolar (or “manic depressive”) disorder. Scientists believe DHA and ARA in the brain play strong roles in relation to these conditions.
Dr. Richard Bazinet, Canada Research Chair in Brain Lipid Metabolism, is building on this knowledge by determining exactly how good and bad fatty acids enter the brain. Bazinet also intends to find out how the brain can be supplied with fatty acids made from plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids instead of fish, so as to not deplete the oceans’ natural fish stocks. In addition, he is examining how the brain uses fatty acids to fight inflammation and conditions like Alzheimer’s and bipolar disorder.
With the understanding of both how fatty acids enter the brain and how they are metabolized in brain disorders, Bazinet aims to develop new brain-imaging techniques. His research could lead to significant advances in using fatty acids or their derivatives to fight serious brain conditions.