Neurological Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids
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The central nervous system is highly enriched in long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) of the omega-6 and omega-3 series. The presence of these fatty acids as structural components of neuronal membranes influences cellular function both directly, through effects on membrane properties, and also by acting as a precursor pool for lipid-derived messengers. An adequate intake of omega-3 PUFA is essential for optimal visual function and neural development. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that increased intake of the long-chain omega-3 PUFA, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), may confer benefits in a variety of psychiatric and neurological disorders, and in particular neurodegenerative conditions. However, the mechanisms underlying these beneficial effects are still poorly understood. Recent evidence also indicates that in addition to the positive effects seen in chronic neurodegenerative conditions, omega-3 PUFA may also have significant neuroprotective potential in acute neurological injury. Thus, these compounds offer an intriguing prospect as potentially new therapeutic approaches in both chronic and acute conditions. The purpose of this article is to review the current evidence of the neurological benefits of omega-3 PUFA, looking specifically at neurodegenerative conditions and acute neurological injury.