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Fuelling the Mind: Unleashing the Power of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids for Brain Vitality

Atnaf Abate, discusses their research around the power of polyunsaturated fatty acids on brain health. 


Neurological disorders are a formidable global health challenge, with a significant impact on both human lives and economies worldwide. In 2019, these disorders contributed to a staggering ten million deaths and 349 million disability-adjusted life years. [1] In Australia alone, the burden of disease cost exceeded $74 billion in 2017, with neurological, mental health, and substance use disorders accounting for more than 20% of the total burden. [2]

The Role of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids in Brain Health

Essential fatty acids, specifically omega-3 (ω-3) and omega-6 (ω-6) polyunsaturated fatty acids, play a crucial role in maintaining optimal brain health and development. [3] However, as our bodies cannot produce these essential nutrients, they must be obtained through dietary sources or supplements. [4] Rich sources of polyunsaturated fatty acids include vegetable oils (such as safflower, corn, sunflower, soy, and cottonseed oils), nuts, seeds, cold-water fish (such as salmon, mackerel, and herring), flaxseeds, flax oil, and walnuts. [5, 6, 7]

The Multifaceted Benefits of Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids  

Beyond serving as a source of energy, [8] polyunsaturated fatty acids contribute to the formation of healthy cell membranes, support proper brain and nervous system functioning, and regulate the production of hormone-like substances vital for immune responses and inflammation control. [9] Additionally, polyunsaturated fatty acids aid in the production of endocannabinoids, which bind to cannabinoid receptors and can alleviate pain and modulate neuroinflammation. [10] 

Striking the Right Balance

While both ω-3 and ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids offer health benefits, it is crucial to maintain a balanced ratio between their consumption. Unfortunately, the Western diet often skews this balance, with excessive ω-6 intake in relation to ω-3. [11] This imbalance has been linked to various diseases, including autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, and can disrupt normal brain development. [12] To address this, experts recommend adhering to a recommended ω-6/ω-3 ratio of 4-5/1 and reducing the consumption of oils high in ω-6 fatty acids while increasing the intake of ω-3 fatty acid sources. [13] 

Unlocking the Potential

By incorporating polyunsaturated fatty acids into our diets or opting for balanced ω-6/ω-3 food supplements, we can unlock the immense benefits they offer for brain health. From supporting brain function to modulating pain and reducing neuroinflammation, polyunsaturated fatty acids have the power to optimise our brain's potential.

Overall, in an era where neurological disorders pose a significant global burden, harnessing the potential of polyunsaturated fatty acids becomes paramount. By embracing a diet rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids and maintaining a balanced ω-6/ω-3 ratio, we can pave the way towards a healthier future, empowering our brains for optimal performance and well-being.

Current Research Activities at Macquarie University

In collaboration with the ARC Training Centre for Facilitated Advancement of Australian Bioactives and our industry partner SFI, my project delves into the captivating realm of bioactive compounds derived from polyunsaturated fatty acids. Specifically, we are investigating the profound impact of these compounds on G-protein coupled receptors and ion channels, as well as their influence on markers for neuroinflammation in neuronal cells. By exploring the intricate interplay between polyunsaturated fatty acids and cellular processes, our research holds immense promise for understanding the underlying mechanisms of brain health and paving the way for novel therapeutic interventions.

[1] Ding, Wu, et al. “Global, Regional, and National Burden and Attributable Risk Factors of Neurological Disorders: The Global Burden of Disease Study 1990–2019.” Frontiers in Public Health, vol. 10, 2022


[2] “Review of the Burden of Disease for Neurological, Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders Australia.” Mindgardens Neuroscience Network, 2019,

[3] Petermann, Reyna-Jeldes, et al. “Roles of the Unsaturated Fatty Acid Docosahexaenoic Acid in the Central Nervous System: Molecular and Cellular Insights.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 23, 2022.

[4] Simopoulos. “The Omega-6/Omega-3 Fatty Acid Ratio: Health Implications.” Oleagineux Corps Gras Lipides, vol. 17, 2010, pp. 267-275. 

[5] Surette. “The Science Behind Dietary Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” CMAJ, vol. 178, 2008, pp. 177-80.

[6] Abedi, Sahari. “Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid Sources and Evaluation of Their Nutritional and Functional Properties.” Food Science and Nutrition, vol. 2, 2014, pp. 443-463.

[7] Ogori. “Source, Extraction and Constituents of Fats and Oils.” Food Science and Nutrition, vol. 6, 2020, pp. 1-8.

[8] Lund, Rustan. “Fatty Acids: Structures and Properties.” Els, 2020.

[9] Bruno. “Essential & Non-Essential Fatty Acids.” Literature Education Series on Dietary Supplements, Huntington College of Health Sciences, 2005.

[10] Park, Watkins. “Dietary PUFAs and Exercise Dynamic Actions on Endocannabinoids in Brain: Consequences for Neural Plasticity and Neuroinflammation.” Advances in Nutrition, vol. 13, 2022, pp. 1989-2001.

[11] Mariamenatu, Abdu. “Overconsumption of Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids (PUFAs) Versus Deficiency of Omega-3 PUFAs in Modern-Day Diets: The Disturbing Factor for Their ‘Balanced Antagonistic Metabolic Functions’ in the Human Body.” Journal of Lipids, 2021.

[12] Ibid. 

[13] Ibid.


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