Although most people in developed countries get plenty of calories each day, their diets are often lacking in key nutrients that their bodies have evolved to expect. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as those found in fish and walnuts, are one category of crucial ingredients that the body cannot make on its own. Although these beneficial fatty acids are known to be good for heart health, researchers are just beginning to learn how omega-3s impact our brains—and by extension, our moods and behavior.
Lipids are integral to the central nervous system, and as studies of statins and diabetes drugs have shown, dropping levels of some lipids can have deleterious cognitive effects. Omega-3 deficiencies specifically have been linked to mood disorders, such as depression, but the underlying neural mechanism has been subject to debate.
New research in mice, published online January 30 in Nature Neuroscience, offers insights into just how dietary intake of these fatty acids might alter the brain’s function. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.)