Omega-3 protects the brain

Aging gets a lot of bad press, but the real reason seniors have a higher disease risk isn't time alone.

It's the oxidative stress that comes along with it.

That's why it's so important to make sure you're getting sufficient levels of antioxidant nutrients as you get older. But don't stop there -- because while the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil generally aren't considered antioxidants, they can also help prevent or even reverse the damage caused by oxidative stress.

And that's especially true in the brain.

In one new study, seniors with the highest intakes of DHA and EPA had the lowest levels of lipid hydroperoxide, or LPO.

OK, there's a lot of letters in that alphabet soup, so let me sort them out for you.

DHA and EPA are, of course, two of the most essential omega-3s -- and the two main fatty acids you'll find in a quality fish oil supplement.

LPO is less familiar to most people, but it's a common marker of oxidative stress in the brain. You want as little as possible, and the new study shows why: It increases the risk of cognitive impairment -- specifically, problems with global cognitive function, short-term memory, learning, and attention.

High levels of omega-3s, on the other hand, can do just the opposite, protecting overall cognitive function as well as short-term memory, attention spans, and recall, according to the study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.

The researchers believe DHA in particular helps the body to produce the enzymes needed to fight oxidative stress damage in the brain.

And that may be part of it.

But we also know from other studies that omega-3 fatty acids protect the brain in a number of other ways, both directly and indirectly. Indirectly, they help with heart health and overall circulation -- and good circulation is critical to brain function.

More directly, the brain itself thrives on omega-3 fatty acids -- which is why fish oil has been shown to help protect and improve memory, mood, and more even in healthy people.

(Did you know that fish oil has been shown to help seniors beat the blues? Click here to read all about it.)

Be sure to look for a quality supplement that has been purified to remove contaminants such as mercury.