Get special offers, recipes, health news, PLUS our FREE seafood cooking guide!
Got it, thanks! Click here for your FREE seafood cooking guide & recipes e-booklet.
Food, Health, and Eco-news
Beyond EPA and DHA
Omega-3 Fats are Vital for Brain Health, But Seafood Offers Far More 07/02/2020 By Eliza Leggatt

Fish has long been associated with mental health and brain wellness. In fact, for at least six millennia, “fish have been culturally labeled as symbols of emotional well-being and social healing” (Hibbeln). The omega-3 fats EPA and DHA have rightfully received most of the credit for this. It’s hard to overstate the benefit of omega-3 DHA as a structural fat in the architecture of our brain’s supercomputer.

Along with EPA’s circulatory role and ability to tame inflammation, so magnificent is the omega-3 wonder-duo of these two fabulous fats that the other marvelous micronutrients packed in fish are taken for granted.

Even a humble tin of sardines can be considered its own little multivitamin - a whole-food form, perfectly packaged and recognizable by the body without the worry of synthetics or imbalances that arise from isolated nutrients.

Indeed, each serving of fish contains not only beneficial fats, but also a mélange of brain-boosting vitamins and minerals. The best part? No pills to swallow or bottles to wrangle.

Consider the following a mini-encyclopedia of brain-supporting super-nutrients beyond EPA and DHA in each perfectly delicious and balanced bite of quality seafood:

Vitamin A

Rich sources include fish eggs, tuna, fish livers and their oils and eel.

Vitamin A has a vast scope ranging from regulation of reproduction, vision, growth, and cellular reproduction, to enabling immune function (Bar-El Dadon, 2017). Due to the broad scope of the many compounds the body makes from it, this fat-soluble nutrient is considered to be the most multifunctional vitamin in the human body (Timoneda

Vitamin A deficiency has long been a formidable public health challenge and priority. Infamous for its status as the leading cause of preventable blindness in children, insufficient dietary vitamin A can contribute to poor digestive health along with weakened resistance to infection (Wiseman).

Retinoic acid, which the body makes from vitamin A, is required to support the health and growth of neurons in the brain’s hippocampus (Stoney). A potent signaling molecule, it also helps to regulate and balance the development of nervous tissue (Olson).

B Vitamins

Rich sources include salmon, tuna, sardines, clams, trout, octopus, herring, crab, mackerel and oysters.

More essential and energizing than a cup of coffee (although not quite as much fun), B vitamins are known to “rev up” energy levels. This group of water-soluble vitamins, like so many other micronutrients, is most notable when deficient.

Particularly glaring by its absence is the B-vitamin folate group. Before widespread folic acid fortification during pregnancy, the prevalence of neural tube (the hollow structure in the fetus from which the brain and spinal cord develop) defects was up to 70 percent higher than today (Molloy).

The B vitamins are “actively transported across the blood brain barrier” and help the body to synthesize vital, brain-supporting compounds including GABA, serotonin, dopamine, adrenaline, noradrenaline and melatonin (Kennedy).

Vitamin D

Rich sources include salmon, tuna, sardines, halibut, eel, trout, and cod liver.

Long known as the “sunshine vitamin” because mammals make it when exposed to sunlight, vitamin D is now understood to function more as a prohormone, or a hormone precursor, that is “metabolized and used by virtually every cell in the body” (Armas).

With significant amounts of vitamin D receptors in brain tissue, the biologically active form has brain-protective benefit (Anjum). Deficiency is now considered a risk factor for neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases (Koduah).

Vitamin K

Rich sources include salmon, oysters, flounder, shrimp, clams, scallops and most seafoods.

Known for its vital role in blood coagulation, this fat-soluble nutrient has more recently been suggested to have an important role in the metabolism of specialized fat cells called sphingolipids, which support healthy proliferation, differentiation, and survival of brain cells (Alisi).


Rich sources include salmon, sardines, anchovies, tuna, mollusks, herring and most seafoods.

Calcium is important for communication between cells. We are also dependent on calcium for long-term brain function such as memory. Calcium imbalances are increasingly blamed for brain diseases (Gareri). Cellular calcium dysregulation is thought to be a “major factor” which contributes to brain aging (Frazier).


Rich sources include anchovy, bass, caviar, gefiltefish, herring, sardine, tuna and most seafoods.

Iron helps the brain keep its balance. Too little and cells will not grow properly; too much, and the environment becomes toxic and triggers early cell death. The lack of neuronal cell growth triggered by early anemia can lead to long-term mental deficit (Georgieff).


Rich sources include cod, haddock, halibut, pollock and salmon and most seafoods.

Few nutrients can be considered as crucial to brain development and function as iodine. Simply put, if the mother does not eat enough or an insufficient amount transfers to the fetus, the child is put at tremendous risk of severe and permanent deficiency in intellect and function.

It’s nearly impossible to overstate the importance of iodine during pregnancy; however, more insidious and yet still common are the smaller and less recognizable deficiencies in iodine which manifest as irreparable diminished intellectual capacity. Thus, sufficient iodine intake has been a pressing public health priority for the past several decades (UNICEF).

Iodine is required for producing thyroid hormones, which is its only known function, “although it may also act as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory…antiviral, and antibacterial agent” (Panth). In addition to the general brain fog associated with thyroid dysfunction, mild thyroid failure may hasten the aging process specifically with regard to cognitive decline (Pasqualetti).


Rich sources include herring, pollock, salmon, mollusks and most seafoods.

Sometimes called “nature’s tranquilizer,” magnesium is a factor in more than 300 enzymatic reactions and plays multiple roles (Alexander). With such frequent and important demands placed upon magnesium, it is little wonder that this, the fourth most abundant mineral in the body, has a tendency to be overused and underconsumed (Volpe). Additionally, some data indicate an association between low magnesium status and Alzheimer’s disease (Barbagello).


Rich sources include sardines, oysters, crab, anchovies, sardines, and most seafoods.

A vital structural part of brain tissue, the body’s balance of zinc is well-regulated; however, some brain diseases such as Alzheimers and schizophrenia are associated with an imbalance or lack of regulation of zinc (Portbury).

Bottom line: Humans have long depended on seafood for the optimal nutrition. Beyond EPA and DHA, the human brain owes much of its development and maintenance to the perfectly balanced blend of essential nutrients that foods from the sea provide.


Alexander, R. T., Hoenderop, J. G., & Bindels, R. J. (2008). Molecular determinants of magnesium homeostasis: insights from human disease. Journal of the American Society of Nephrology : JASN, 19(8), 1451–1458.

Alisi, L., Cao, R., De Angelis, C., Cafolla, A., Caramia, F., Cartocci, G., Librando, A., & Fiorelli, M. (2019). The Relationships Between Vitamin K and Cognition: A Review of Current Evidence. Frontiers in neurology, 10, 239.

Anjum, I., Jaffery, S. S., Fayyaz, M., Samoo, Z., & Anjum, S. (2018). The Role of Vitamin D in Brain Health: A Mini Literature Review. Cureus, 10(7), e2960.

Armas, L. A., & Heaney, R. P. (2011). Vitamin D: the iceberg nutrient. Journal of renal nutrition : the official journal of the Council on Renal Nutrition of the National Kidney Foundation, 21(2), 134–139.

Barbagallo M, Belvedere M, Di Bella G, Dominguez LJ. Altered ionized magnesium levels in mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease. Magnes Res. 2011;24:S115–21

Bar-El Dadon, S., & Reifen, R. (2017). Vitamin A and the epigenome. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 57(11), 2404–2411.

Boucher B. J. (2012). The problems of vitamin d insufficiency in older people. Aging and disease, 3(4), 313–329.

Dickinson, A., Blatman, J., El-Dash, N., & Franco, J. C. (2014). Consumer usage and reasons for using dietary supplements: report of a series of surveys. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 33(2), 176–182.

Frazier, H. N., Maimaiti, S., Anderson, K. L., Brewer, L. D., Gant, J. C., Porter, N. M., & Thibault, O. (2017). Calcium's role as nuanced modulator of cellular physiology in the brain. Biochemical and biophysical research communications, 483(4), 981–987.

Gareri, P., Mattace, R., Nava, F., & De Sarro, G. (1995). Role of calcium in brain aging. General pharmacology, 26(8), 1651–1657.

Georgieff M. K. (2017). Iron assessment to protect the developing brain. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 106(Suppl 6), 1588S–1593S.

Jeon, S. M., & Shin, E. A. (2018). Exploring vitamin D metabolism and function in cancer. Experimental & molecular medicine, 50(4), 20.

Kennedy D. O. (2016). B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy--A Review. Nutrients, 8(2), 68.

Koduah, P., Paul, F., & Dörr, J. M. (2017). Vitamin D in the prevention, prediction and treatment of neurodegenerative and neuroinflammatory diseases. The EPMA journal, 8(4), 313–325.

Molloy, A. M., Kirke, P. N., Troendle, J. F., Burke, H., Sutton, M., Brody, L. C., Scott, J. M., & Mills, J. L. (2009). Maternal vitamin B12 status and risk of neural tube defects in a population with high neural tube defect prevalence and no folic Acid fortification. Pediatrics, 123(3), 917–923.

Nerhus, I., Wik Markhus, M., Nilsen, B. M., Øyen, J., Maage, A., Ødegård, E. R., Midtbø, L. K., Frantzen, S., Kögel, T., Graff, I. E., Lie, Ø., Dahl, L., & Kjellevold, M. (2018). Iodine content of six fish species, Norwegian dairy products and hen's egg. Food & nutrition research, 62, 10.29219/fnr.v62.1291.

Olson, C. R., & Mello, C. V. (2010). Significance of vitamin A to brain function, behavior and learning. Molecular nutrition & food research, 54(4), 489–495.

Ono, K., & Yamada, M. (2012). Vitamin A and Alzheimer's disease. Geriatrics & gerontology international, 12(2), 180–188.

Panth, P., Guerin, G., & DiMarco, N. M. (2019). A Review of Iodine Status of Women of Reproductive Age in the USA. Biological trace element research, 188(1), 208–220.

Pasqualetti, G., Caraccio, N., Dell Agnello, U., & Monzani, F. (2016). Cognitive Function and the Ageing Process: The Peculiar Role of Mild Thyroid Failure. Recent patents on endocrine, metabolic & immune drug discovery, 10(1), 4–10.

Portbury, S. D., & Adlard, P. A. (2017). Zinc Signal in Brain Diseases. International journal of molecular sciences, 18(12), 2506.

Ransom, J., Morgan, P. J., McCaffery, P. J., & Stoney, P. N. (2014). The rhythm of retinoids in the brain. Journal of neurochemistry, 129(3), 366–376.

Rayman M. P. (2012). Selenium and human health. Lancet (London, England), 379(9822), 1256–1268.
Spiller, P., Hibbeln, J. R., Myers, G., Vannice, G., Golding, J., Crawford, M. A., Strain, J. J., Connor, S. L., Brenna, J. T., Kris-Etherton, P., Holub, B. J., Harris, W. S., Lands, B., McNamara, R. K., Tlusty, M. F., Salem, N., Jr, & Carlson, S. E. (2019). An abundance of seafood consumption studies presents new opportunities to evaluate effects on neurocognitive development. Prostaglandins, leukotrienes, and essential fatty acids, 151, 8–13.

Stoney, P. N., & McCaffery, P. (2016). A Vitamin on the Mind: New Discoveries on Control of the Brain by Vitamin A. World review of nutrition and dietetics, 115, 98–108.

Timoneda, J., Rodríguez-Fernández, L., Zaragozá, R., Marín, M. P., Cabezuelo, M. T., Torres, L., Viña, J. R., & Barber, T. (2018). Vitamin A Deficiency and the Lung. Nutrients, 10(9), 1132.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service. FoodData Central , 2019.

UNICEF. The roadmap towards achievement of sustainable elimination of iodine deficiency. Operational Guidance: 2005 and beyond. United Nations Children’s Fund, New York, 2005.

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28 October 27, 2015 13:58 EDT
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28 October 19, 2015 21:49 EDT
USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28 October 21, 2015 10:23 EDT Page 108 of 236

Wang, N., Tan, H. Y., Li, S., Xu, Y., Guo, W., & Feng, Y. (2017). Supplementation of Micronutrient Selenium in Metabolic Diseases: Its Role as an Antioxidant. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2017, 7478523.

Wiseman, E. M., Bar-El Dadon, S., & Reifen, R. (2017). The vicious cycle of vitamin a deficiency: A review. Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, 57(17), 3703–3714.