Our Brains Need Animal Fat to Fully Function, Psychiatrist Says

There is no plant source of DHA, a fatty acid “necessary for higher intelligence, sustained attention, decision-making, and complex problem-solving,” says a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and several studies.

Our brains are two-thirds fat.

Of that, 20% is supposed to be comprised of an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA.

There are no plant sources of DHA, only animal sources.

There is a plant source of a precursor to DHA (docosahexanoic acid) called ALA (alpha-linoleic acid), but the body is only capable of converting less than 10% of it, at most, into the DHA.

Some studies find the conversion rate to be zero.

What happens when you don’t get enough DHA? Bad things.

DHA is required for the formation of myelin, the white matter that insulates our brain circuits, allowing electricity to flow through them and our nervous system to function properly.

It also helps maintain the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from pathogens.

“Perhaps most importantly, DHA is critical to the development of the human cortex—the part of the brain responsible for higher-order thinking,” writes Harvard-trained psychiatrist Georgia Ede in a Psychology Today article titled The Brain Needs Animal Fat.

“Without DHA, the highly sophisticated connections necessary for sustained attention, decision-making, and complex problem-solving do not form properly. It has been hypothesized that without DHA, consciousness and symbolic thinking—hallmarks of the human race—would be impossible.”

DHA plays a “unique and indispensable role” in the “neural signaling essential for higher intelligence.” — says Simon Dyall PhD, Lipid Research Scientist Bournemouth University, in his 2015 study on the matter.

Our first animal source of DHA is our mothers, in their wombs during the third trimester, and then from their mammary glands, ideally for at least 2 years.

“If enough DHA isn’t available to the baby during this critical 27-month window, it is unclear whether the consequences can be completely undone,” Ede says.

Those consequences include ADHD, autistic spectrum disorders, mood disorders and other psychiatric disorders, she says.

Around 80 percent of American adults are deficient in DHA.

Even many meat eaters are deficient, Ede says, because of the high concentration of the omega-6 fatty acid LA (linoleic acid) in their diets, especially from refined vegetable oils.

When too much LA is present in the body, it reduces the production and bioavailability of DHA, a 2014 study shows.

Even advocates of plant-based diets acknowledge it’s unclear how much ALA a person needs to consume (from nut oils and such) to generate an adequate amount of DHA in the body, Ede notes.

What is clear is the fewer animal foods we eat, the lower our DHA levels tend to be.

Compared to omnivores, DHA levels are 31% lower in vegetarians and almost 60% lower in vegans, a 2005 study found.

The best sources of DHA are wild-caught fatty fish like anchovies, salmon, herring, mackerel and tuna, and wild or pasture-raised meats, eggs and dairy.

It’s important to note, factory-farmed, grain-fed animal products are not nearly as high in DHA, and contain a harmful concentration of omega-6 fatty acids.

For those of you who absolutely will not eat animal products, there is one non-animal, non-plant source — algae oil. However, it is a refined product, making it less bioavailable and it contains lower amounts of DHA per calorie than animal sources.

Also, checkout Nourishing Fats: Why We Need Animal Fats for Health and Happiness: