How Fish Oil and Vitamin D Make You Happier, Smarter and Thinner

From Dr. Amen’s best-selling book “The Amen Solution,” he explains fish oil and Vitamin D are key ingredients to your overall brain and body health.

Get Smart to Get Thinner

“Now that I have learned about omega-3 fatty acids, I tell all the people I work with that it’s important for them to take their fish oil.”

Fish oil: For years, I have been writing about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish oil supplements. I personally take a fish oil supplement every day and recommend ALL of my patients do the same. When you look at the mountain of scientific evidence, it is easy to understand why. Research has found that omega-3 fatty acids are essential for optimal brain and body health.

For example, according to researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, having low levels of omega-3 fatty acids is one of the leading preventable causes of death and has been associated with heart disease, strokes, depression, suicidal behavior, ADD, dementia, and obesity. There is also scientific evidence that low levels of omega-3 fatty acids play a role in substance abuse, and I would argue that OVEREATING IS A FORM OF SUBSTANCE ABUSE.

I can tell you that most people, unless they are focusing on eating fish or taking fish oil supplements, have low omega-3 levels. I know this because at the Amen Clinics we perform a blood test on patients where we can measure the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood. Before I began offering the test to patients, I tested it on my employees, several family members, and of course, myself. When my test results came back, I was very happy with the robust numbers. An omega-3 score above seven is good. Mine was nearly eleven. But the results for nearly all of the employees and family members I tested were not so good. In fact, I was horrified at how low their levels were, which put them at greater risk for both physical and emotional problems. It is an easy fix. They just needed to eat more fish or take fish oil supplements.

Boosting your intake of omega-3 fatty acids is one of the best things you can do for your brainpower, mood, and weight. The two most studied omega-3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). DHA makes up a large portion of the gray matter of the brain. The fat in your brain forms cell membranes and plays a vital role in how our cells function. Neurons are also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. EPA improves blood flow, which boosts overall brain function.

How fish oil helps make you thinner.

Increasing omega-3 intake has been found to decrease appetite and cravings and reduce body fat. In a fascinating 2009 study in the British Journal of Nutrition, Australian researchers analyzed blood samples from 124 adults (twenty-one healthy weight, forty overweight, and sixty-three obese), calculated their BMI, and measured their waist and hip circumference. They found that obese individuals had significantly lower levels of EPA and DHA compared with healthy-weight people. Subjects with higher levels were more likely to have a healthy BMI and waist and hip measurements.

More evidence about the benefits of fish oil on weight loss comes from a 2007 study from the University of South Australia. The research team found that taking fish oil combined with moderate exercise, like walking for forty-five minutes three times a week, leads to a significant reduction in body fat after just twelve weeks. But taking fish oil without exercising, or exercising without fish oil, did not result in any reduction in body fat.

One of the most intriguing studies I have found on fish oil and weight loss appeared in a 2007 issue of the International Journal of Obesity. In this study, researchers from Iceland investigated the effects of seafood and fish oils on weight loss in 324 young overweight adults with BMI ranging from 27.5 to 32.5. The participants were placed in four groups that ate 1,600-calorie diets that were the same except that each group’s diet included only one of the following:

Control group (sunflower oil capsules, no seafood or fish oil)
Lean fish (3 x 150 g portions of cod per week)
Fatty fish (3 x 150 g of salmon per week)
Fish oil (DHA/EPA capsules, no seafood)

After four weeks, the average amount of weight loss among the men in each of the four groups was as follows:

Control group: 7.8 pounds
Lean fish group: 9.6 pounds
Fatty fish group: 9.9 pounds
Fish oil group: 10.9 pounds

The researchers concluded that adding fish or fish oil to a nutritionally balanced calorie-restricted diet could boost weight loss in men.

How fish oil helps make you happier

Research in the last few years has also revealed that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids help promote a healthy emotional balance and positive mood in later years, possibly because DHA is a main component of the brain’s synapses. A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that fish oil helps ease symptoms of depression. One twenty-year study involving 3,317 men and women found that people with the highest consumption of EPA and DHA were less likely to have symptoms of depression.

How fish oil helps make you smarter

There is a tremendous amount of scientific evidence pointing to a connection between the consumption of fish that is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and cognitive function.

A Danish team of researchers compared the diets of 5,386 healthy older individuals and found that the more fish in a person’s diet, the longer the person was able to maintain their memory and reduce the risk of dementia. Dr. JA Conquer and colleagues from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, studied the blood fatty acid content in the early and later stages of dementia and noted low levels when compared to healthy people. In 2010, UCLA researchers analyzed the existing scientific literature on DHA and fish oil and concluded that supplementation with DHA slows the progression of Alzheimer’s and may prevent age-related dementia.

Omega-3 fatty acids benefit cognitive performance at every age. Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh reported in 2010 that middle-aged people with higher DHA levels performed better on a variety of tests, including nonverbal reasoning, mental flexibility, working memory, and vocabulary. In a study from Swedish researchers, results showed that surveyed nearly five thousand fifteen-year-old boys and found that those who ate fish more than once a week scored higher on standard intelligence tests than teens who ate no fish. A follow-up study found that teens eating fish more than once a week also had better grades at school than students with lower fish consumption.

Additional benefits of omega-3 fatty acids include increased attention in people with ADD, reduced stress, and a lower risk for psychosis. When we put our retired football players on our fish oil supplements, many of them were able to decrease or completely eliminate their pain medications.

My recommendation for most adults is to take between 1 to 2 grams of high-quality fish oil a day.

Get Smart to Get Thinner

“When I started taking vitamin D, I lost seven pounds in one week!”

Vitamin D

Vitamin D, also known as the “sunshine vitamin,” is best known for building bones and boosting the immune system. But it is also an essential vitamin for brain health, mood, memory, and your weight. While classified as a vitamin, it is a steroid hormone vital to health. Low levels of vitamin D have been associated with depression, autism, psychosis, Alzheimer’s disease, MS, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. Unfortunately, vitamin D deficiencies are becoming more and more common, in part because we are spending more time indoors and using more sunscreen.

How vitamin D helps you get thinner

Did you know that when you don’t have enough vitamin D, you feel hungry all the time, no matter how much you eat? That is because low levels of vitamin D interfere with the effectiveness of leptin, the appetite hormone that tells you when you are full. Research also shows that vitamin D insufficiency is associated with increased body fat. A 2009 study out of Canada found that weight and body fat were significantly lower in women with normal vitamin D levels than women with insufficient levels. It appears that extra fat inhibits the absorption of vitamin D. The evidence shows that obese people need higher doses of vitamin D than lean people to achieve the same levels.

One of the most interesting studies I have seen on vitamin D comes from researchers at Stanford Hospital and Clinics. They detailed how a patient was given a prescription for 50,000 IU weekly of vitamin D that was incorrectly filled for 50,000 IU daily instead of weekly. After six months, the patient’s vitamin D level increased from 7, which is extremely low, to 100, which is at the high end of normal.

What I found really intriguing about this report was that the patient complained of a few side effects from the very high dosage, namely decreased appetite and significant weight loss. Of course, I am not advocating that you take more vitamin D than you need. But I think it shows that optimal levels of vitamin D may play a role in appetite control and weight loss.

Get Smart to Get Thinner

“I was taking 4,000 IUs of vitamin D a day, and my level only went up to 38. The doctor said that was in the normal range and it was okay, but I want it to be in the optimal range (50-90), so I am going to increase my daily dosage.”

This patient’s story shows why it is so important to get your vitamin D level checked before and after treatment. That way, you will know if you are taking the right dosage, or if you need to adjust the dosage.

How vitamin D helps make you smarter

Did you know that vitamin D is so important to brain function that its receptors can be found throughout the brain? Vitamin D plays a critical role in many of the most basic cognitive functions, including learning and making memories. These are just some of the areas where vitamin D affects how well your brain works, according to a 2008 review that appeared in The FASEB Journal.

The scientific community is waking up to the importance of vitamin D for optimal brain function. In the past few years, I have come across a number of studies linking a shortage of vitamin D with cognitive impairment in older men and women, as well as some suggesting that having optimal levels of the sunshine vitamin may play a role in protecting cognitive function. One such study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that vitamin D3, the active form of vitamin D, may stimulate the immune system to rid the brain of beta amyloid, an abnormal protein that is believed to be a major cause of Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin D activates receptors on neurons in regions important in the regulation of behavior, and it protects the brain by acting in an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity.

Another study conducted in 2009 by a team at Tufts University in Boston looked at vitamin D level in more than 1,000 elderly people over the age of sixty-five and its effect on cognitive function. Only 35 percent of the participants had optimal vitamin D levels, the rest fell in the insufficient or deficient categories. The individuals with optimal levels of vitamin D (50 nmol/L or higher) performed better on tests of executive functions, such as reasoning, flexibility, and perceptual complexity. They also scored higher on attention and processing speed tests than their counterparts with supoptimal levels.

How vitamin D helps make you happier

When it comes to being happy, the scientific evidence is clear. The lower your vitamin D levels, the more likely you are to feel blue rather than happy. Low levels of vitamin D have long been associated with a higher incidence of depression. In recent years, researchers have been asking if, given this association, vitamin D supplementation can improve moods.

One trial that attempted to answer that question followed 441 overweight and obese adults with similar levels of depression for one year. The individuals took either a placebo or one of two doses of vitamin D: 20,000 IU per week or 40,000 IU per week. By year’s end, the two groups that had taken the vitamin D showed a significant reduction in symptoms while the group taking the placebo reported no improvements. Other trials have reported similar findings.

The current recommended dose for vitamin D is 400 IU daily, but most experts agree that this is well below the physiological needs of most individuals and instead suggest 2,000 IU of vitamin D daily. I think it is very important to test your individual needs, especially if you are overweight or obese since your body may not absorb the vitamin D as efficiently if you are heavier.