Oh, Omega! Could vegan and plant-based diets lack of fish be brain-damaging?

Veganism is the oh so popular diet of the time. To go against the vegan diet is seen as environment hating and with the popular Netflix “Seaspiracy” condemning fish consumption and restaurant chains such as Pizza Express opening up vegan food only restaurants, fish is out. Yet our brains NEED fish and so are we, by excluding this vital source of DHA and EPA Omega 3s from our diet which is needed for memory, cognition and logic, healthy weight maintenance and learning (and with fish a great source of magnesium and B1 vitamins needed for sleep, energy and mental health), making everyone less clever, happy and full of vitality, motivated and heavier?

Omega 3 fatty acids have been promoted for years as the best way of boosting brain power (increasing neurogenesis or brain cell growth and neuroplasticity, the formation of new brain pathways) and improving brain health, preventing neurodegeneration (Dyall, 2015). Recent evidence also shows that they play a vital role in mental health (Lange, 2020) and the maintainance of a healthy weight, with a high omega 3 to low omega 6 (found in highly proceeded foods and trans fats) ratio aiding weight loss (Simopoulos and DiNicolantonio, 2015), (Albracht-Schulte et al, 2018).

When it comes to Omega 3s, we have three types; ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) which is from plants such as chia, flax and hemp seeds and things like Kale and Spinach. 6–8% (Burns Whitmore et al) of this, is then converted to EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) which is found in fish and meat, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), also found in fish and meat. We cannot get EPA and DHA solely from plant based sources and only less than 10% of plant based sources convert to EPA and DHA. Therefore by depriving our diets of these key fish oils with restrictive plant based diets, we are depriving our brains and bodies sufficient amounts of omega 3 needed for mental and physical health. The vegan defence that you can just get it from nuts, green leafy veg, algae and seeds, is simply not sufficient or true. No matter how much nuts and seeds ALA you eat, a vegan diet will have less Omega3 and most importantly, never enough DHA omega3. Our brains simply need fish.

Our brains need fish

Whilst I wholeheartedly support the idea that overfishing and overfarming is not sustainable, we must not stop eating fish completely. Children and teenagers need fish oils for essential brain development, learning, memory, anxiety reduction (they help shift the the brain from emotional (Amygdala focused) brain to prefrontal cortex (logical, rational, decision focused brain) focus) and in the battle against obesity and eating disorders. Our brains were not meant to live on plants alone. Fish is brain food.

References

  1. Dyall S. C. (2015). Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and the brain: a review of the independent and shared effects of EPA, DPA and DHA. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 7, 52. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2015.00052
  2. Lange. K. W. (2020). Omega-3 fatty acids and mental health. Global Health Journal, 4, 1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.glohj.2020.01.004.
  3. A. P. Simopoulos and J.J. DiNicolantonio (2015) The importance of a balanced ω-6 to ω-3 ratio in the prevention and management of obesity Open Heart 3. e000385. doi: 10.1136/openhrt-2015–000385
  4. Albracht-Schulte, K., Kalupahana, N. S., Ramalingam, L., Wang, S., Rahman, S. M., Robert-McComb, J., & Moustaid-Moussa, N. (2018). Omega-3 fatty acids in obesity and metabolic syndrome: a mechanistic update. The Journal of nutritional biochemistry, 58, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2018.02.012
  5. Kokubun, K., Nemoto, K., & Yamakawa, Y. (2020). Fish Intake May Affect Brain Structure and Improve Cognitive Ability in Healthy People. Frontiers in aging neuroscience, 12, 76. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnagi.2020.00076

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Laurentia (Laura)Campbell

Laurentia (Laura)Campbell

Neuroscience, mental health and nutrition academic and writer. Life-experimenter, trying to add value with an insatiable appetite for actioning positive change.