Omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in fish, appears to play a significant role in improving nervous system function, reveals a new study.
The researchers insist two omega-3 fatty acids - docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) have been found to avoid sensory overload, maybe by maintaining nerve-cell membranes.
The finding connects low omega-3s to the information-processing problems found in people with schizophrenia; bipolar, obsessive-compulsive, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders; Huntington's disease; and other afflictions of the nervous system.
"It is an uphill battle now to reverse the message that 'fats are bad,' and to increase omega-3 fats in our diet," said Norman Salem Jr., PhD, who led this study at the Laboratory of Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
The body cannot make these essential nutrients from scratch. It gets them by metabolizing their precursor, a-linolenic acid (LNA), or from foods or dietary supplements with DHA and EPA in a readily usable form.
"Humans can convert less than one percent of the precursor into DHA, making DHA an essential nutrient in the human diet," said Irina Fedorova, PhD, one of the paper's co-authors.
EPA is already known for its anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular effects, but DHA makes up more than 90 percent of the omega-3s in the brain (which has no EPA), retina and nervous system in general.
During the study, the researchers fed four different diets with no or varying types and amounts of omega-3s to four groups of pregnant mice and then their offspring.
They measured how the offspring, once grown, responded to a classic test of nervous-system function in which healthy animals are exposed to a sudden loud noise. Normally, animals flinch. However, when they hear a softer tone in advance, they flinch much less.
It appears that normal nervous systems use that gentle warning to prepare instinctively for future stimuli, an adaptive process called sensorimotor gating.
The mice raised on DHA and EPA showed normal, adaptive sensorimotor gating by responding in a significantly calmer way to the loud noises that followed soft tones.
The research is published in journal Behavioural Neuroscience.