High-Dose Fish Oils Rescue Brain Cells after Traumatic Brain Injury
(c) 2018 Dr. Jocelyn Taitt, ND
About 30% of the brain is composed of omega-3 fatty acids. When injured (such as in a concussion) the brain tends to swell, and connections between nerve cells (neurons) are often damaged, while other nerve cells die. But research1,2 out of the National Institute of Health in the United States found that supplementing with high doses of DHA-rich omega-3 fatty acids (such as those found in quality fish oils) very soon after a traumatic brain injury may inhibit cell death and support the reconnection of nerve cells.
Another study3 found that DHA omega-3 fatty acid in fish oil helps to turn on certain genes that lead to the production of special proteins that help to contain the inflammation and subsequent further damage of brain cells after brain injury (as well as in Alzheimer’s disease).
The doses of DHA-rich fish oils that are prescribed after a traumatic brain injury are sometimes 10x greater than a person would normally consume on a daily basis. Fish oils have a mild but dose-dependent blood thinning effect, so it is important that hemorrhagic brain injury (brain injury due to bleeding) or bleeding disorders are ruled out before extremely high doses of fish oils are prescribed. Blood-thinning medications may be a contraindication for the consumption of fish oils.
In addition to being of potential benefit after traumatic brain injury, fish oils provide a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that are otherwise often severely deficient in the diet of modern humans, and are an important supplement in the treatment of many inflammatory and neurological conditions, from arthritis and endometriosis to depression and multiple sclerosis. But the quality of fish oils on the market varies considerably, and it is important to ensure that your supplement contains a sufficient amount of EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. Naturopathic Doctors carry fish oils that are produced with extremely stringent manufacturing procedures for the highest quality and purity, and which contain therapeutic doses of EPA and DHA fatty acids. Some fish or other seafood-based omega-3 oils are sourced from unsustainable fishing practices, so it is also important to ensure that your omega-3 oil supplement is a sustainable product.
As always, it is best to talk to your health provider about whether fish oils are a potentially safe and helpful supplement for you, and which kinds may be of most benefit for your individual health.
1. Kim, HY et al. (2010). Phosphatidylserine-dependent neuroprotective signaling promoted by docosahexaenoic acid. Accessed Sept. 28, 2018. Available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3383770/> doi 10.1016/j.plefa.2010.02.025
2. Kim, HY et al. (2011). N-docosahexaenoylethanolamide promotes development of hippocampal neurons. Accessed Sept. 28, 2018. Available at <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3169088/> doi 10.1042/BJ20102118
3. Lukiw, W. et al. (2005). A role for docosahexaenoic acid-derived neuroprotectin D1 in neural cell survival and Alzheimer disease. Accessed Sept. 28, 2018. Available at < https://www.jci.org/articles/view/25420> doi 10.1172/JCI25420
4. Smith, Stephanie (CNN, 2017). Fish oil helped save our son. Accessed Sept. 28, 2018. Available at <https://www.cnn.com/2012/10/19/health/fish-oil-brain-injuries/index.html>