When considering the health benefits of chia seeds, brain health almost always pops up in the conversation. Chia seeds contain an abundance of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 essential fatty acid that assists in maintaining brain health.
The omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants are the most extensively studied by modern nutrition scientists in relation to chia seeds and their effect on brain health. And for good reason — a deficiency in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) alters the structure and function of brain membranes, and causes many brain disorders. On the other hand, a deficiency in antioxidants in the brain means there is no protection against oxidation by free radicals.
The omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants are the most extensively studied by modern nutrition scientists in relation to brain health. And for good reason — a deficiency in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) alters the structure and function of brain membranes, and causes many brain disorders. On the other hand, a deficiency in antioxidants in the brain means there is no protection against oxidation by free radicals.
For many decades, attention surrounding nutrition was always focused on what food can do for the body (that part of the ourselves below the neck). It is only in recent times though, that nutrition scientists began to see the links between the terrible things that happen inside the head and nutritional deficiency.
WHY ARE CHIA SEEDS BRAIN FOOD?
After adipose tissue (body fat), the brain is the organ richest in lipids (essential fats) especially omega-3 fatty acids. In fact, you could say that the brain more or less needs to be made of omega-3 fatty acids, and therefore needs a never-ending supply of it. The brain also needs the other essential fat, linolenic acid (LA or omega-6), but in a proper ratio to omega-3. The ideal ration is 3:1 in favor of omega-3.
A skewed ratio where there is more omega-6 than omega-3 is counterproductive, even damaging, and has been found to induce both mental and behavioral problems, especially in children and in the ageing population. Western diets are reported to be dangerously deficient in omega-3 and excessive in omega-6, with a ratio as bad as 1:50.
When you’re talking about the structure of the brain, you’re talking about what it is primarily made of. So when you withhold essential fatty acids to the brain, you slowly alter what the brain is made of, how it develops, and you cause changes in the chemicals inside the brain cell membranes and neurons. It’s tantamount to trying to grow a farm without feeding the crops with the proper fertilizer, water and sunshine; and then feeding them poison. The effects are equally tragic.
What are essential fatty acids? These are the fatty acids we cannot live without, that’s why they’re called essential. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot produce them and are only available from the foods we eat. Omega-3 can be found in oily fish, chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, hemp oil, soya oil, canola, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, leafy vegetables, sea weed, and kiwi fruit.
Food sources rather than from capsule supplements have been found to be better sources of omega-3 with less side effects and less risk of over dosage. Omega-3 oil supplements (in capsule form) can become rancid even without you knowing it, so make sure if you purchase capsules, that you store them in the fridge, and preferably that they were refrigerated in the shop. Rancid omega-3 are a waste of money and time, and may even be bad for you.
When eating omega-3 rich foods, take care that you eat the freshest food, as some omega-3 rich foods can also go rancid quite quickly. Consider un-fresh fish and seaweed! Ugh. Even flax seed, long a reigning king among omega-3 rich food before the popularity of chia seeds, has been declared carcinogenic (can give you cancer) when rancid. Flax seed begins to oxidize as soon as it’s ground and rancidity steps in quite quickly. You need to take it as soon as you grind it.
Among these, chia has the most stable omega 3, as it also contains powerful antioxidants that prevent the seeds from becoming rancid, and can stay stable if kept in a dark, dry storage up to 1 year. Chia seeds also contain omega 6 with a ratio of 3.3 (omega-3):1 (omega-6).
Note: While we are a business that sell chia and its health benefits, we do not discourage you from eating all these other omega-3 rich foods. All nutrients have a way of complementing each other, and increasing the effectiveness of their health benefits. So have a go at all of these fatty foods for your brain’s sake! Watch those nut calories though.
DANGERS TO THE LOW FAT DIET CRAZE
Considering that ‘low fat‘ diet messages have been shouted down the corridors of health for nearly five decades, is it any wonder that a whole generation of aging people, middle aged people, young adults, teens, and children are now suffering from a plethora of brain and behavioral dysfunctions?
When ALA deficiency alters brain development, this leads to disturbances in mental and behavioral functions, including visual, emotional and intellectual processes. New studies into brain nutrition have resulted in drastic nutritional messages all sounding like this:
EAT OMEGA-3 ESSENTIAL FATS
FOR A HEALTHY BRAIN
A diet high in essential fats prevent brain abnormalities that lead to mood disorders, behavioural problems, depression, dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Low concentrations of omega-3 are associated with depression (especially in pregnant and nursing women). Studies that look into the cerebrospinal fluid in suicides also show significantly low concentrations of omega-3 in the fluid.
When we talk about neurons, we’re talking about the very basic building block of the brain and the nervous system. It’s what the brain uses to send messages between its parts, and also to the rest of the body to tell its different members how to act and grow.
For decades, it was generally known that we cannot grow neurons like we can grow mushrooms. There is a school of scientific teaching that says that the organization of brain neurons is almost complete at birth, and completes in childhood. And that’s it. The neurons we have by the age 10 are the neurons we have until we die. Any disturbance of these neurons, any alteration of their connections, an impairment of their structures, will all lead to brain aging.
However, there are new studies out that suggest that this is not true, and that with the right food and training, we can grow new neurons (although never as fast as mushrooms, sadly) or re-train them after damage from accidents or illness, and even during aging. This amazing concept is called neurogenesis (creation of new neurons), and are now the subject of a series of books, but the low-down is that omega-3 fatty acids would play a VERY big role in the whole process of brain development even in our adult years.