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Omega-3 fats are known to be beneficial to brain health, especially the omega-3 fat DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). DHA is found in cold-water fatty fish and in algae, and can be obtained by consuming fish high in DHA (salmon, sardines, and herring, in particular), fish oil supplements, or vegetarian DHA supplements derived from algae. Throughout every phase of life, DHA plays a role in protecting and improving brain health.

In a recent study published in the journal Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, researchers compared the fatty acid levels of breast milk with children’s academic test scores. The researchers used data on DHA content of breast milk and test scores from 28 countries. They found that higher amounts of omega-3 DHA in mothers’ milk strongly predicted later test performance in their children. DHA levels predicted test scores even more strongly than national income or dollars spent per pupil in school.

“Human intelligence has a physical basis in the huge size of our brains—some seven times larger than would be expected for a mammal with our body size,” noted Steven Gaulin, one of the researchers. “Since there is never a free lunch, those big brains need lots of extra building materials—most importantly they need omega-3 fatty acids, especially DHA.”

While economic well-being did play a role in predicting test scores, “If you had to choose one, you should choose the better diet rather than the better economy,” noted Gaulin. That says a lot, doesn’t it?

Dietary omega-3 intake in the United States is woefully low, and to add insult to injury, omega-6 intake is extremely high. To combat this imbalance, be sure to eat plenty of fish high in omega-3, and add a DHA supplement to ensure you are getting enough.