Eating Fat Improves Memory
Omega-3 fats form the basic structure of all our cell membranes. And all life processes start and end at the surface of our cells. These surfaces are where all the biological "communication" in your body takes place. Every instruction you need to survive is communicated from one cell to the next through your cell membranes. Think of the cell membranes as the ears of your cells. Without healthy cell membranes you will be deaf to the call of messages coming in.
You are only as healthy as your cell membranes. Changes in your cell membranes affect the health of your entire body. The healthier your cell membranes are, the healthier you will be. Let's focus on why this is true in the brain for a minute.
Your brain only weighs about three pounds, or 2 percent of your body weight, but it uses about 20 percent of the oxygen you breathe and about 20 percent of the calories you consume. Your brain contains one hundred billion brain cells, with trillions of supportive cells to protect and defend them, called glial cells (the immune cells of the brain).
Each brain cell is connected to every other brain cell by about forty thousand connections (called synapses). So, let's see... 40,000 x 100,000,000,000. That is how many connections there are in your brain, and they are all sending messages all the time!
All those connections meet at the cell membrane.
If those membranes are not healthy, then the effectiveness and speed of communication slows down. That leads to poorer mental function, memory problems, and mood disorders. There are many things that affect the wiring and connections in the brain–in fact all the keys explained in The UltraMind Solution do. But the membranes of your brain cells are at the heart (or brain) of the matter.
Cell membranes are made of the following things:
- Fatty acids: the omega-3 fats (DHA and EPA) if you are eating well or taking fish oil, or shortening and lard if you are not.
- Phospholipids: fats that contain phosphorous, especially phosphatidylcholine (PC) and phosphatidylserine (PS)
- Cholesterol: the glue between molecules (You NEED cholesterol.)
- Proteins: receptors, transporters, gates, signal transducers, etc. This is where all the communication signals from other parts of the body and the environment get processed. (I will be talking more about proteins after we discuss phospholipids.)
Besides the omega-3 fats, which compose much of your cell membrane, there is another class of compounds called phospholipids, which are equally crucial for building membranes. The two most important are called PS (phosphatidylserine) and PC (phosphatidylcholine).
These fatty substances are critical for optimal brain function, and research has borne out the benefits of these nature-made molecules. If your cell membranes are your brain's ears, these two compounds are your brain's "eardrums." They are the listening interface of every cell and receive the communications all your other cells are sending. If your cells are not made of the right materials, you will be "deaf" and become not only dumb but also depressed and demented!
Your cell membranes are made up of the fats you consume. If those membranes are made of trans fats and beef fat, they become stiff and hard like lard or Crisco. As a result, communication gets stopped up. It's hard for things to get in or out–for information to pass smoothly from one cell membrane to the next–when your cell membranes harden this way.
If they are made from omega-3 fats and phospholipids, your cell membranes become fluid and flexible, allowing easy communication from cell to cell. Think about the cold-water fish swimming in Arctic waters. Their bodies have high levels of fat to preserve heat but must be fluid so they can swim and move in icy waters. Your cell membranes need to be fluid and smooth like those fish.
The most abundant fats in your cell membranes are called phospholipids. Phosphatidylserine (PS) is found in all cell membranes; in fact, it is in all cells in all life forms. It is one of the building blocks of nature, and the human brain has particularly high amounts of it.
Using PS supplements has been proven effective in improving memory and cognitive function1, boosting mood and stress reduction,2 improving attention and reducing aggression in children with ADHD. And it has no side effects!
Unless you eat a lot of organ meats (like liver, kidney, and brain often prized in traditional cultures), which is not a good idea because they store toxins, you may need to supplement with PS.3
The other main phospholipid is phosphatidylcholine (PC). The effects of PC are widespread throughout our bodies and brains. It is the most abundant molecule in your cell membranes. It helps make new brain cells and helps maintain attention, concentration, memory, and mood as well as boost detoxification. And it reduces the stress hormone cortisol, which is harmful to the brain.
How does PC do all this?
It contains a vitamin called "choline"" that is essential for producing acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is one of the major neurotransmitters responsible for memory, motor function, and the function of your autonomic nervous system (the automatic nervous system that regulates your unconscious bodily functions like breathing, heart rate, digestion, and all your organ functions).
PC is one of the raw materials that your body is made of, and without it you can't have healthy membranes, control your organ function, remember things, repair your brain, or effectively eliminate toxins or control inflammation. This chemical sets the stage for addressing any problem with mood, memory, attention, and behavior.
The best sources of choline are lecithin (essentially a dietary source of PC that comes from egg yolks and soybeans; it can be taken as a supplement), eggs, sardines, soybeans, nuts, and peanuts.
The protein receptors for all your brain neurotransmitters sit inside the fatty cell membrane. When the membrane is rigid, the receptors can't work and your brain doesn't function well. A fluid membrane improves the structure and function of protein receptors for neurotransmitters like serotonin (depression), dopamine (attention), and acetylcholine (memory). Fluid membranes also improve the function of enzymes and ion channels in the membrane, leading to better cell communication and signals.
So just eating a can of sardines will help your brain grow, improve connections, make mood chemicals work better, help cells communicate better, reduce inflammation, and improve the function of every cell in your body by giving them the fats they need to build smooth, fluid membranes that communicate information easily. And all that with a few bites of lunch!
For more tips on how to improve your memory using diet and lifestyle techniques, see Dr. Hyman's new book, The UltraMind Solution.
- Crook TH, Tinklenberg J, Yesavage J, Petrie W, Nunzi MG, Massari
DC. Effects of phosphatidylserine in age-associated memory impairment.
Neurology. 1991 May;41(5):644-9.
- Hellhammer J, Fries E, Buss C, Engert V, Tuch A, Rutenberg D, Hellhammer D.
Effects of soy lecithin phosphatidic acid and phosphatidylserine complex (PAS)
on the endocrine and psychological responses to mental stress. Stress.
- Kidd PM. A review of nutrients and botanicals in the integrative
management of cognitive dysfunction. Altern Med Rev. 1999 Jun;4(3):144-61.
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