According to Voltaire, “The art of medicine consists [of] amusing the patient while nature cures the disease.
” And presenters at the 2014 Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo in Atlanta, Ga., given by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (October 18–21), agree.During the session “Brain Health: Rethinking the Role of Fatty Acids in Brain Development and Function,” speakers discussed how the modern diet’s inadequate content of omega-3 fatty acids impairs cognitive function and prevents the brain from repairing itself. In particular, Michael Lewis, founder of the Brain Health Education & Research Institute, focused on how nutrition science is integral to brain health.
Lewis, who works predominantly with military personnel and athletes suffering from traumatic brain injuries and concussions, said that the typical American diet routinely has omega-6 to omega-3 ratios as high as 25:1; omega-6 fatty acids are pro-inflammatory. He said that the unbalanced ratios are the result of the ubiquitous use of seed oils (soybean, corn, cottonseed, etc.) in food production. Indeed, soybean oil is the largest contributor of omega-6 fatty acids in the American diet. While a healthy blood level of omega-3 fatty acids is 70%; military personnel typically have omega-3 blood levels of 17%. Lewis believes this may be a significant contributing factor to the prevalence of suicides and post-traumatic stress disorder in the military. In fact, in 95% of military suicides, levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) were less than 2%.
There are no magic pills for traumatic brain injuries or other brain damage, Lewis said. The brain needs high doses of the omega-3s DHA and, to a lesser extent, eicosapentaenoic acid to heal after an injury. Thus, the solution to brain injuries is increasing the intake of omega-3 fatty acids and decreasing the intake of omega-6 fatty acids. This means the direct consumption of fish, seafood, and fish oil. If a brick wall suffers damage, one should use bricks to repair the wall; omega-3 fatty acids are the “bricks” of the cell walls in the brain, Lewis said. Fish, seafood, and fish oil provide the building blocks (i.e., nutrition) the brain needs to heal itself, he said.