Neurological Effects

Fatty acids are major components of the brain and are found in high concentrations in two structural components: the neuronal membrane and the myelin sheath. About 50% of the neuronal membrane is composed of fatty acids (1/3 from the omega-3 family), while in the myelin sheath lipids constitute about 70% (Yehuda et al 2005). The lipid component has a relatively high turnover, in contrast to the protein component, which is especially stable.

Essential fatty acids play an active role in neuronal membrane function and fluidity and the control of neuronal growth factors. Essential fatty acids also potentially influence each step in biogenic amine function, including neurotransmitter synthesis, degradation, release, reuptake and binding (Bruinsma & Taren 2000). Studies indicate that dietary PUFAs may influence noradrenergic and serotonergic neurotransmission and receptor function in the nervous system and, thereby, have a direct effect on function, mood and behaviour. Other actions at the neuronal cell membrane includes suppression of the phosphatidyl-associated signal transduction pathways, blocking of the calcium ion influx through l-calcium channels and direct inhibition of protein kinase C, which are similar actions to those exhibited by pharmaceutical mood stabilisers.

Prenatal and postnatal neurological development DHA plays an important, if not critical, role in the growth and functional development of the brain during the third trimester and the early postnatal period when maximal growth occurs (Horrocks &Yeo 1999). Given that 1 5% of brain growth occurs during infancy, much attention has been paid to the consequences of variable omega-3 levels during late pregnancy and early infancy. It also plays an important role in retinal development, where DHA constitutes 60% of total PUFAs.

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