Healthspan News

Omega 3 and Vitamin D have a synergistic effect in the brain

Posted 5 March 2015 12:00 AM by Healthspan
Healthy Brain

Researchers writing in the FASEB Journal suggest that vitamin D and omega-3 fish oils may help to regulate serotonin levels in the brain. They further suggest this might provide benefits for people with certain neurological conditions such as autism, ADHD, impulsive behaviour, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. We asked GP and medical nutritionist Dr Sarah Brewer for the lowdown:

Serotonin is synthesised in the brain from an amino acid, called tryptophan, and the enzyme that carries out this conversion is activated by vitamin D. Once serotonin is made, EPA (one of the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils) helps brain cells release it into their associated synaptic gaps where it diffuses across to stimulate surrounding brain cells, passing their message along. Once serotonin arrives at a new brain cell, the presence of another long-chain omega-3 fish oil, DHA, helps the serotonin message get received by increasing cell membrane fluidity. Good levels of vitamin D and both omega-3s are therefore needed for optimum brain function.

The authors suggest that lack of vitamin D, EPA or DHA contributes to a number of neuropsychiatric disorders and depression, especially when certain genes are inherited, or when these nutrient deficiencies occur at key periods during development.

After winter in the UK, low vitamin D levels are common, as you can’t make it in your skin when UV levels are below 3. Consumption of fish oils is also poor, amounting to around one third of a portion per week, on average. So, if you eat little fish, and see little sun, you may well be feeling less than your best.

Food sources of vitamin D3 (the most active form) include oily fish, cod liver oil, animal liver, fortified margarine, eggs, butter and fortified milk. Vitamin D3 is also included in multivitamins, typically at the relatively low dose of 5mcg; this is the nutrient reference value (NRV) based on the amount needed for calcium absorption to maintain healthy bones. Many experts now agree that higher doses of vitamin D are needed (such as 25mcg, or 1000 i.u. per day) as it’s no longer just about bones.  

If you like fish, then aim to eat more. Salmon, mackerel, fresh (not tinned) tuna, herrings, kippers, sardines and pilchards are all good sources of omega-3s. If you don’t like eating fish, then an omega-3 supplement is an increasingly good idea. A 1g capsule of omega-3 fish oils can provided 600mg of the long-chain EPA and DHA. If you are vegetarian, omega-3s from algae (which is where the fish originally obtain theirs) are also available.

Reference: Patrick RP & Ames BN. Vitamin D hormone regulates serotonin synthesis. Part 1: relevance for autism.  Part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia and impulsive behavior. FASEB

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