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The Brain-Boosting Benefits of Omega 3 for Stroke Recovery

spoonful of fish oil pills with omega 3s

Wondering if omega 3 supplements actually help with stroke recovery? This article will examine information from reliable sources regarding the use of omega 3s for stroke recovery. While omega 3s are generally considered beneficial, more research on this subject is needed.

This article will begin with a description of omega 3 fatty acids, followed by a summary of recent studies regarding the use of omega 3 for stroke recovery. For those looking to boost omega 3 consumption, a list of omega 3 rich foods is also included. Please use the links below to jump directly to any section:

What Are Omega 3 Fatty Acids?

Omega 3 fatty acids, often referred to as omega 3s, are a type of polyunsaturated fatty acid. These “good” fats can help provide energy and are used by many systems of the body, including the cardiovascular, pulmonary, immune, and endocrine systems.

High levels of omega 3s are found in the brain, sperm, and in the retina of the eyes. Additionally, each cell in the body is surrounded by a membrane containing omega 3s. Since omega 3s play so many vital roles in the body, maintaining adequate omega 3 levels is crucial.

There are multiple types of omega 3 fatty acids, including:

  • alpha-linolenic acid (ALA)
  • eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA
  • docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)
  • docosapentaenoic acid (DPA)

The body can use ALA to produce other types of omega 3 fatty acids, but ALA must be consumed through foods or supplements since the body cannot produce it. Only very limited quantities of ALA are converted however, with less than 21% of ALA being converted to EPA, DHA or DPA.

Therefore, in order to boost omega 3 levels, it is essential to consume foods with high omega 3 content, such as fish and flaxseed. While omega 3 supplements are available, it is best to gain omega 3s directly from dietary sources. Although it is possible to have an omega 3 deficiency, this is very rare in the United States.

Important: Because high levels of omega 3s may have a blood thinning effect, it is critical to check with one’s doctor before starting omega 3 supplements. Individuals may be recommended to avoid omega 3 supplementation if they have a history of hemorrhagic stroke or blood disorder, or are taking anticoagulant medications (blood thinners).

Research Regarding Omega 3 for Stroke Recovery

A number of studies have been conducted regarding the use of omega 3 for stroke recovery. While most studies indicate that increasing omega 3 levels can boost stroke recovery, the mechanisms surrounding this are still being examined.

Of note, there have been a few large-scale studies that have shown omega 3s do not impact stroke recovery. However, the majority of the research leans toward omega 3s being beneficial.

The following is an overview of recent studies looking at the efficacy of omega 3 for stroke recovery:

  • One study published in 2021 revealed that long-term ALA dietary supplementation improved outcomes following ischemic stroke in mice. It was also concluded that ALA supplementation can reduce inflammation and impairments in the blood brain barrier.
  • A 2020 study found that taking 1 gram of omega 3s daily prior to having a stroke lowered the risk of functional limitations and physical disability after a stroke. However, these improvements were not statistically significant.
  • A 2019 study on mice found that administering omega 3s after stroke improved neuronal survival and adaptative rewiring within the brain, both of which are important for stroke recovery.
  • Research from a 2019 study involving over 8,000 individuals found that taking icosapent ethyl, a purified form of EPA, resulted in a lowered risk of ischemic events such as stroke.
  • The American Heart Association published a 2019 study that reported omega 3 supplementation lowers the risk for cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, myocardial infarction. However, it was noted that taking supplemental omega 3s did not reduce the risk of stroke.
  • A 2022 systematic review of 30 randomized controlled trials on the effects of omega 3 for stroke recovery found that there was insufficient evidence to accurately determine the effects of omega 3s. Furthermore, there has been limited research regarding the optimal dosages, delivery form, and mode of administration of omega 3.

It is also important to note that different omega 3s have been shown to have different characteristics. Thus, each type of omega 3 may have a different effect on stroke.

For example, one study determined that higher DPA and DHA levels are associated with a reduced risk of ischemic stroke, while EPA levels are not. Another study found that taking EPA was associated with reduced cardiovascular events, while consuming EPA and DHA together did not have this effect.

Taking the results of these studies into account, it does appear that omega 3s could improve stroke recovery. However, it is evident that more research is needed.

Mechanisms Behind Omega 3 for Stroke Recovery

While it cannot be stated with certainty that omega 3s promote stroke recovery, they have a number of favorable characteristics that may serve as mechanisms for boosting recovery. Omega 3s can lower cholesterol levels and have remarkable antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, as well as anticoagulant properties. These characteristics may reduce the risk of stroke and improve stroke outcomes.

Notably, omega 3s have also been reported to prevent the loss of brain cells and promote the restoration of white matter in the brain. This is significant because stroke recovery revolves around the process of neuroplasticity: rewiring the brain to encourage healthy parts to take on the functions damaged by stroke.

If omega 3s can help prevent further deterioration of the brain and promote recovery of brain tissue, it is likely that they could promote stroke recovery. However, it is always important for individuals to talk with their doctor about major dietary adjustments or dietary supplements before making any changes.

Foods Rich in Omega 3

Individuals looking to increase their omega 3 consumption for stroke recovery should focus on eating foods rich in omega 3s. Here are some of the healthiest foods that contain omega 3, starting with the most potent:

  • Flaxseeds
  • Walnuts
  • Salmon
  • Beef
  • Soybeans
  • Shrimp
  • Brussel sprouts

A number of diets, such as the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, incorporate many of these omega 3 rich foods. While natural sources of omega 3 are best, some individuals may benefit from supplementation to enhance the benefits of omega 3 for stroke recovery. However, it is essential that individuals discuss any major dietary changes or new supplements with their doctor in order to rule out any contraindications.

Omega 3 and Stroke Recovery

Omega 3 fatty acids are critical for brain health and show promising benefits for stroke recovery. While many studies are favorable, more research is still needed to fully understand the effects of omega 3s on stroke recovery.

Obtaining omega 3s through food is ideal, but supplementation may be recommended for some individuals. Before making any major dietary adjustments or adding supplements, always talk about the benefits and potential contraindications with your doctor.

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