December 21, 2009
DHA And EPA Reduce Sensory Overload In Mice

Omega 3 fatty acids from fish make mice less likely to overreact to loud noises. The idea here is maybe the same happens with humans.

WASHINGTON The omega-3 essential fatty acids commonly found in fatty fish and algae help animals avoid sensory overload, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. The finding connects low omega-3s to the information-processing problems found in people with schizophrenia; bipolar, obsessive-compulsive, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders; Huntington's disease; and other afflictions of the nervous system.

The study, reported in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience, provides more evidence that fish is brain food. The key finding was that two omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) appear to be most useful in the nervous system, maybe by maintaining nerve-cell membranes.

"It is an uphill battle now to reverse the message that 'fats are bad,' and to increase omega-3 fats in our diet," said Norman Salem Jr., PhD, who led this study at the Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

LNA (alpha-linolenic acid), the DHA precursor fat found in plant foods (e.g. in flax oil) does not provide this benefit.

In the study, the researchers fed four different diets with no or varying types and amounts of omega-3s to four groups of pregnant mice and then their offspring. They measured how the offspring, once grown, responded to a classic test of nervous-system function in which healthy animals are exposed to a sudden loud noise. Normally, animals flinch. However, when they hear a softer tone in advance, they flinch much less. It appears that normal nervous systems use that gentle warning to prepare instinctively for future stimuli, an adaptive process called sensorimotor gating.

Only the mice raised on DHA and EPA, but not their precursor of LNA, showed normal, adaptive sensorimotor gating by responding in a significantly calmer way to the loud noises that followed soft tones. The mice in all other groups, when warned, were startled nearly as much by the loud sound. When DHA was deficient, the nervous system most obviously did not downshift. That resulted in an abnormal state that could leave animals perpetually startled and easily overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.

DHA is found in algae and that is why fish have so much DHA. Some of the DHA found in capsules comes from growing algae.

Get easily distracted or rattled by noises? A diet big in salmon or sardines might be worth a try.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 December 21 10:03 PM  Brain Nutrition

Bob Badour said at December 22, 2009 7:06 AM:
A diet big in salmon or sardines might be worth a try.

Go for the north atlantic mackerel. It's very high in omega-3 oils, and very low in mercury. Then again, if you all start buying mackerel, the increased demand will increase the price and reduce stocks. Never mind.

B. Durbin said at December 23, 2009 2:09 PM:

If you're worried about mercury, smaller is better. (Less time to accumulate dangerous levels.) If you're worried about sustainability, the Monterey Bay Aquarium pocket guides are a good help.

There's also evidence that Omega-3s help with depression and anger issues, so your mom really was right. Fish is brain food. Eat it for good health.

mojavewolf said at December 23, 2009 2:54 PM:

Not to question the merits of the study, but the claim made in the first graf seems to overextrapolate a very specific and somewhat odd finding. Significantly calmer response to loud noises? A follow-up might be to fart in their cages and see if they make less of a scrunch face.

NikFromNYC said at December 23, 2009 3:34 PM:

If people want good Omega-3 you must order it online. Search for 'distilled' or 'molecularly distilled'. OmegaBrite and ProOmega are only two I know of. OmegaBrite is more expensive and a bit better but ProOmega is the one I buy right now. They don't produce the burpy fish taste that the cowpill generic ones do, especially if downed with milk.

Vader said at December 23, 2009 3:59 PM:

If you don't like fish, try walnuts or flax seed.

Wacky Hermit said at December 23, 2009 8:34 PM:

A lot of parents of autistic children, who are often hypersensitive to noises, give their kids fish oil supplements. My kids like them so much, they ask for them particularly. They seem to help.

Diane said at December 26, 2009 10:20 AM:

The Kirkland fish oil capsules I got from Costco say they use state-of-the-art molecular distillation. I've never noticed any fish taste. The price is very reasonable.

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