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Fish Oil & Brain Health

Sharpen Your Mind

Randall McCloy Jr. was the only survivor of the 2006 Sago mine collapse.

When the rescuers found him in the rubble, he had brain, heart, liver and kidney failure. He was barely clinging to life. After he was transported to West Virginia School of Medicine, one of the first things the hospital neurosurgeons did was tube-feed him very large doses of fish oil.

Mr. McCloy has since made a remarkable recovery.

“I certainly think it played a big role,” said Dr. Julian Bailes, Chair of the Department of Neurosurgery. “How can he rebuild his brain, if he doesn’t have the substrate to do it?

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Scientific research on Omega-3 and brain health.

Omega-3 is the building block of the brain. So the brain has a voracious appetite for Omega-3 and other nutrients.

Have you ever skipped a meal and felt light-headed? Well, that’s your brain asking for glucose.

Your brain is like a muscle. To keep it toned, you need to do two things to it:

  1. Feed it
  2. Exercise it (think crossword puzzles and learning new languages)

The brain is only 2% of your total body weight, but it can use up to a third of the energy from what you eat. So it is the first to suffer when you eat junk food or eat trans-fats.

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Sixty percent of a healthy brain is Omega fats.

Omega-3 helps the transport of nutrients and “happy chemicals” (prostaglandins and neurotransmitters) like serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Omega-3 also laces or lines nerves. And since the brain is the center of the nervous system, it has a huge and constant need for Omega-3.

So what happens when you don’t have enough Omega-3?
The brain replaces or “makes do” with whatever type of fat is available. Usually, the brain (and the rest of the body for that matter) uses Omega-6 or trans-fat if that is what is available.

Some scientists use a lock-and-key analogy to explain how Omega-3 helps nerve cells in the brain. Imagine there is an Omega-3 lock and an Omega-3 key. They belong together. An Omega-3 lock cannot be opened with any other key. So if there is not enough Omega-3 available, many parts of the brain simply stops working like they should.

Bottom line: Not enough Omega-3 translates to a poorly working brain!

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{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda January 10, 2013 at 3:12 pm

I was taking Lovaza as prescribed by my doctor, and I noticed my recall memory was restored to earlier years (I am now 64 and had some frustrating memory loss) – but my blood sugar rose from pre-diabetic numbers in 120′s, to 151, at which time I quit Lovaza. I really value my memory, and did not want to stop the Lovaza. Would it be safe to take only one pill/day for memory. Can I restart Lovaza with no problem – I still have lots left. Would a fish oil pill be better?

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Vin Kutty January 10, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Hi Linda – yes, Omega-3 can help with memory. In some people, high levels of Omega-3 can raise blood sugar levels. Since you were prescribed Lovaza by your doctor, I cannot advise you on whether you should change your prescribed dosage. It would be illegal for me to do so. Please check with your doctor. Technically, re-starting Lovaza or any pharma grade fish oil should not be a problem but I would expect the same increase in blood sugar. I don’t think you’ll notice much difference between Lovaza or any pharmaceutical grade fish oil. As far as memory goes, yes, one pill would be better than not taking it at all. Again, please check with your doctor.
- Vin Kutty

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karen miller February 24, 2013 at 9:41 pm

What is the fish oil derived from?

Thank you, Karen Miller

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Vin Kutty February 24, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Hi Karen – OmegaVia fish oil is made from Alaskan Pollock and Whiting.

- Vin Kutty

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rommel amargo March 11, 2013 at 1:45 pm

hi great article,very informative. can you tel me if my 8 yr old daugther can benifit if she take omega 3 supplement?she s a little bit falling behind in her class.will there be no adverse side effect?

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Vin Kutty March 12, 2013 at 12:38 am

Hi Rommel – you’re better off getting her to eat salmon regularly. Reduce sugar and processed foods. Do that first. Then, adding Omega-3 to her diet would be a good idea.

- Vin Kutty

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Sandy March 18, 2013 at 10:33 am

Hi, If I am diabetic, how much fish oil is safe to take without my A1C going up. It is presently about 6.8.

Thanks so much!

Sandy

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Vin Kutty March 21, 2013 at 6:49 pm

Hi Sandy – your A1c is very high. However, the benefits of taking fish oil outweighs any possible effect it may have on your A1c or fasting blood glucose. There is some preliminary evidence that says high levels of fish oil can increase fasting blood glucose. But its effect on A1c is less certain. I assume you’re already under a doctor’s care for diabetes – I would check with them to make sure it is OK for you to take fish oil.

- Vin Kutty

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krish April 2, 2013 at 6:25 pm

Nice article, I want to improve my programming skills and problem solving skills. Will fish oil supplements help in improving my skills?

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Vin Kutty April 3, 2013 at 7:05 pm

Hi Krish – it certainly could. Try it and let us know how it goes.

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ALAIN April 11, 2013 at 8:29 pm

I HAVE SEVERAL BRANDS OF FISH OIL INCLUDING LOVAZA, WITH ALL OF THEM I HAVE EXPERIENCED HAIR LOSS AND PROSTATE INFLAMATION. I FEEL GREAT TAKING THE PRODUCT , MY MEMORY IS BETTER , BUT I HAVE THESE PROBLEMS. I HAVE READ IN OTHER WEBSITES PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT THE SAME THING. YET EVERYTHING I READ FROM TRIALS IS THAT FISH OIL IS GOOD FOR HAIR AND PROSTATE . HAVE YOU HEARD ANYTHING ABOUT THIS PROBLEM

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Vin Kutty April 11, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Hi Alain – hair loss and prostate inflammation are not side effects of taking fish oil. At least not typical.

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ALAIN April 11, 2013 at 8:31 pm

IS VASCEPA BETTER THAN OMEGAVIA?

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Vin Kutty April 11, 2013 at 10:10 pm

Hi Alain – it probably is. Vascepa has a little more EPA and a lot less DHA. Vascepa is also not enteric coated.

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RWM April 22, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Hi, Vin.

I know of someone who has a child with autism. He claims his child is benefiting from omega-3, in terms of responsiveness and mental alertness and awareness. I wonder whether it would be the EPA or the DHA component that he is likely benefiting from.

Also, I am diabetic and have been taking omega-3 for some time, with apparent benefits. My A1C is presently within normal perimeters (5.7) and my other numbers (LDL, HDL, cholesterol, triglycerides) are all very good. I will assume that omega-3 is helping with all of this.

Which component of omega-3 is likely benefiting me, EPA or DHA?

Kind regards.
RWM

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Vin Kutty April 22, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Hi RWM – the science on autism and Omega-3 is limited. So I can’t say with much confidence whether it is the EPA or DHA that’s helping. If it were my child, I’d go conservative and go with both fatty acids.

Your A1C is considered borderline or pre-diabetic. If you watch your diet, you could stay there and not progress into full blown diabetes. When it comes to diabetes, I am somewhat of a supplement skeptic. There are several supplements (including Omega-3) that show promise, but they all help only a little bit if at all. Nothing works like cutting out sugar and starch and exercise. I share your exact A1C number and the only way I can keep myself from going full-blown diabetic is to remain on a low-carb diet. Works for me but may not for others.

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RWM April 23, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Vin,
What is the upside and downside of soy and GMOs in omega-3 fish oil products? Do they make a difference?

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Vin Kutty April 24, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Hi RWM – no difference in my opinion, unless you are allergic to soy. If you are not allergic, then we’re splitting hairs because the level of soy content in any fish oil (in the form of natural Vitamin E as a preservative) is so miniscule that it is irrelevant. Remember the first rule of toxicology: the dose makes the poison.

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Debra Whyte May 2, 2013 at 12:52 pm

I have a huge history of Alzheimer’s in my family, how much fish oil/ omega 3 should I take a day

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Vin Kutty May 4, 2013 at 12:08 am

Hi Debra – there isn’t very good evidence of Omega-3 helping Alzheimer’s after the disease has set in. This could be because the disease progresses over decades and the time to watch your diet and nutrition is BEFORE (long before) the illness sets in. My suggestion to you is to really watch your sugar and starch intake – cut it down drastically. Get to know coconut oil. There is a great Youtube video on coconut oil and alzheimers – find it and watch it. Omega-3 dosage of 1000 mg per day is a good idea too.

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pete May 21, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Will it give me wind. I suffer from chronic gas and am worried?

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Vin Kutty May 21, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Hi Pete – usually not. If you notice greater than usual discomfort, try some digestive enzymes like the one from LifeExtension called Extraordinary Enzymes. Might also help if you increased probiotic and fermeted food consumption and healing the gut.

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ANN May 25, 2013 at 4:11 pm

FOR AN AUTISTIC CHILD OF 9 YEARS HOW MUCH FISH OIL SHOULD HE TAKE ADAY FOR CONCENTRATION AND BRAIN IMPROVEMENT?

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Vin Kutty May 26, 2013 at 12:08 am

Hi Ann – I’d suggest between 500 mg and 1000 mg per day. Omega-3 pills alone will not help. I suggest giving the child a whole foods diet (sometimes called Paleo) that is high in vegetables, grass-fed meats, eggs, fruits and nuts.

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Bodio June 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Which omega 3 really help with brain function?
I’m currently in nursing school and I need all the help I can get for my brain and overall memory.

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Vin Kutty June 2, 2013 at 2:37 am

Hi Bodio – you need both EPA and DHA. If you’re trying to get a handle on mood issues, EPA will help a little more.

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Karim July 24, 2013 at 7:58 pm

the EPA/ DHA ratio is really confusing
all I am looking for from fish oil is to make my brain sharper ,to improve my memory and cognitive functions and to make my mood higher.
p.s. I am an ADHD and bipolar patient.
some researches and websites claim that a high EPA/to very low DHA ratio is the best thing to consider for example :OmegaBrite
will you please tell me if I should stick with the normal ratio 3:2 or consider a different supplement

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Vin Kutty July 25, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Hi Karim – you’d be fine with a regular ratio since you’re primarily brain focused. But remember, fish oil + bad diet = bad diet. You may get greater benefits from switching to a whole foods only diet.

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james July 26, 2013 at 4:40 am

I have experimented with Merck ,seven seas Fish-oil, that Morning if I take one capsule of Fish oil, I feel good ( since ,I have circulatory problems , and the level of Triglicerides are high, even I have fatty liver), but yesterday night I took fish along with the meal (not sea fish , it is cold water fish) and early morning around 3.30 am , I took one capsule of fish oil. I found myself , nose bleeding. please advice me on this

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Vin Kutty July 26, 2013 at 7:32 pm

Hi James – I doubt the incidences are connected. Extremely high doses of Omega-3 taken over a long time can increase nose bleeds. Clearly, that’s not what you did. I’d look elsewhere for clues – talk to your doctor.

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Jeffrey Cardoza July 29, 2013 at 10:00 pm

Where does the Omega3 (EPA & DHA) arrive in the brain? The neuroscience is what i’m mostly asking.

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Vin Kutty July 30, 2013 at 11:26 pm

Hi Jeffrey – mostly in the hippocampus. Omega-3, especially DHA, is found in the part of the brain involved in new memory formation. Specifically, synaptic membranes and neurites.

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Nicole January 13, 2014 at 6:11 pm

I was wondering about how much and what type of supplement/fish oil capsule would be good to try with a 5 year old with cerebral palsy/epilepsy/asthma? I’ve been researching that fish oil can be helpful for these and lots of other issues but I am having trouble figuring out what exactly to try and how much. My daughter has a feeding tube so whatever we give her we usually dissolve with water and give her that way. Could you help me with a dosage recommendation?

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Vin Kutty January 13, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Hi Nicole – try one or two teaspoons of this product a day: http://www.nordicnaturals.com/en/Products/Product_Details/514/?ProdID=1711 Barleans makes Omega Swirls that can also be liquified and fed through a tube. For now, aim for 500 mg of Omega-3 or so per day.

Between the two, I prefer Nordic. Please let me know how it works out.

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rodziah January 18, 2014 at 8:14 am

hi Vin…good and excellent information, I learned a lot about omega 3 and fish oil from this site..

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larry January 18, 2014 at 9:25 am

I am bipolar been in bed for a year
Need help how many mg should i start with

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Vin Kutty January 18, 2014 at 7:22 pm

Hi Larry – sorry to hear that you’ve had to stay bed-bound for a year. Bipolar is a challenging condition. I assume you are getting professional medical help. While taking Omega-3 may or may not dramatically change the condition, it is certainly worth trying for a few months to see if you notice any change. I’d suggest taking 2000 mg of Omega-3 per day. There may be several other nutritional factors to attend to, so I recommend talking to a dietitian: http://authoritynutrition.com/11-paleo-low-carb-registered-dietitians-with-blogs/

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Jill February 3, 2014 at 2:01 pm

I’m a 53 yr.old female & suffered a mild traumatic brain injury after being hit by a car last yr. I was wondering what dosage & product you would recommend.

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Vin Kutty February 4, 2014 at 4:39 am

Hi Jill – so sorry to hear about that. Hope you are recovering. You need a high DHA product. OmegaVia is not your right choice. However, you may want to give this product a shot. We make it too: http://www.amazon.com/Pharma-Grade-InnovixLabs-Concentrated-Burp-Free-Capsules/dp/B00F5ZV6W6/

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Krysten February 8, 2014 at 8:56 pm

My friend was in a accident and I have been looking up a lot to try and help him and his family out he has server Traumatic brain injury and he is bed ridden and has a feeding tube and a trach I found out that fish oil might help him recover he will never be the same person though. He cant talk cant walk or do pretty much do anything he is starting to move his left arm and he can pick up his left leg a little. He needs someone with him 24/7 and I was wondering what kind of fish oil to use for a feeding tube and where to buy it at. So I can try and help him get better I would do anything for him and his family to help him out

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Vin Kutty February 8, 2014 at 9:22 pm

Hi Krysten – so sorry to read about this. I’ve been hearing a lot about this lately. I was just talking to a doctor who gave his patient (similar situation as your friend) 10 grams of Omega-3 per day (10,000 mg per day) for a week. He then reduced the dosage to 5000 mg per day over a period of 2-3 weeks. They were able to get the patient out of a coma this way. This is all very new in terms of scientific discovery but it is not surprising that high dose fish oil for a few weeks helps because the brain is made up of fats and it needs a lot of Omega-3 to rebuild. Omega-3 also reduces inflammation in the brain. You may want to follow Dr. Barry Sears on Facebook – he is always posting about this. My suggestion is to bring this up with your friend’s family and have them discuss with his doctor. You may need to use liquid fish oil – I suggest you try Nordic Naturals if his doctor decides to go this route.

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Brandon February 10, 2014 at 10:13 pm

Is there a certain type of feeding tube that the fish oils can go down? My fiancĂ© had a stroke at 22 y/o and the doctors said let’s try the fish oils but then a couple hours later said that they can’t do it because the oil is caustic to the tubing? She has a g-tube in place right now. She has her eyes open and looking around but following no commands or making purposeful movement. We have been at the University of Michigan hospital since dec 8th 2013. Just looking on how to get the fish oils to her thanks!

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Vin Kutty February 10, 2014 at 10:36 pm

Hi Brandon – this happening to a 22 year old is shocking and sad. I don’t know if there is a special type of tubing for this. Instead of just looking at tubing, I would suggest trying different types of Omega-3 to see if they all have the same caustic effect. My suggestion is to try Nordic Naturals liquid Omega-3 first. Please keep us posted.

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Brandon February 10, 2014 at 10:48 pm

I’ll ask the doctors, being caustic to the tube came from the pharmacy inside the hospital. Would hospitals have more than one kind of omega 3′s? If not I might be able to bring it in from the outside. With the doctors permission first. Yes unfortunately all of this is from a staph infection that landed on her heart valve. With every beat it spread the infection through her body mainly her brain. The infection then caused aneurysms in her brain. One of the multiple aneurysm burst on Christmas Eve and caused a massive bleed. After doing research I’m nervous about large dosages but we decided to start her out at 3 grams a day but now I just need to find out how to give it to her. Thank you!

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Vin Kutty February 11, 2014 at 5:55 pm

Hi Brandon – some forms of fish oil may be gentler on synthetic tubing etc. This is why I suggested Nordic Naturals liquid fish oil, which is in a triglyceride form, a relative neutral form of fish oil. Hospitals usually have just fish oil pills. People suffering from brain trauma have been given both pills and liquid. Some have even been given an IV of fish oil. Doses have been as high as 10 grams during the first week and then lowering it to 5 grams the week after. And then down to 2 or 3 grams after that. But then again, this appears to be the developing protocol immediately after the stroke or trauma. Not sure how it works a month or two after the incident.

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Brandon February 12, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Vin, thank you for time. I checked out Nordic naturals and the Ultimate Omega 3 Xtra liquid seemed like a great product. The ratio of EPA to dha is 2:1 which is what dr. Barry Sears recommends. My next question is have you ever heard of a AA/EPA ratio test? I want to do this before I give her any fish oils because then I will know the correct amount to give. Just wanted your opinion. Thanks!

chris March 23, 2014 at 4:57 pm

Hey Vin, interesting info. Do you think peanut butter is a good fat for the brain? because even out of eating that, peanuts, as well as taking fish oil soft jells, I feel noticeably and significantly energized mentally with a little PB.

Also do you know anything about myelin in the brain. Because I consistently see that comes up when I look at DHA/EPA omega-3 studies.

Thank You!

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Vin Kutty March 24, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Hi Chris – no, peanut butter only has very little that’s good for the brain but it has a lot of Omega-6 fats that competes with and undoes the benefit of Omega-3 from fish oil. If you want to try a nut butter (peanut is a legume, not a nut), I suggest macadamia, cashew or almond butter. Macadamia nut butter is probably the healthiest based on the fatty acids in it.

Myelin sheath is a thin layer around neurons – nervous system and the brain – and Omega-3, especially DHA, helps in its proper function and operation. The adult human brain needs about 4 mg of DHA every day.

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Mary June 6, 2014 at 6:59 pm

I am interested in knowing what form of fish oil (EPA vs DHA) is most beneficial for multiple sclerosis. Do you need both forms and if so, how much of each and what should the ratio be? And should you avoid fish oil with Whole Omega Complex such as in Norwegian Gold Super Critical Omega. Thank you very much for the information.

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Vin Kutty, MS June 8, 2014 at 4:13 pm

Hi Mary – this question comes up from time to time. Unfortunately, there is no clear answer. There is a role for both EPA and DHA when it comes to the brain and nervous system. I cannot say one is less or more important than the other. If some I know had MS, I’d suggest anywhere from 2000 to 4000 mg of Omega-3 per day, containing both EPA and DHA. Don’t worry about ratios. Make sure you clear any dosage with your doctor.

Norwegian Gold is perfectly fine.

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Mary June 9, 2014 at 12:15 pm

Thank you so much for the information and for your prompt reply.

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Akira July 14, 2014 at 4:26 am

Hi Vin.my sister had a mild stroke last 2 weeks.she is only 28 years she has a young hypertension.After doing MRI and CT scan.Doctors had confirm that she had anuerysm and there is 3 of them.one had burst and Dictor said it might rebleed again.According to Dr the blood cloth is the one holding the ruptured one from rebleeding.Do you think i should let her eat omega 3? Because i read it is very good for the brain.and how much dose do you suggest?.Tq

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Vin Kutty, MS July 14, 2014 at 5:00 am

Hi Akira – sorry to hear about your sister. She’s really young to have to go through this. Since I am not a doctor, I am neither qualified nor authorized to give you medical advice…and anything in response to you would be medical advice. Please work closely with her doctor to find the right solution.

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Surya July 23, 2014 at 11:29 am

Hi

MY son had a brain tumor in his left hemisphere when he was 1.5 years old and this affected his right side. Luckily he had come out of it and the tumor is removed and there is no reoccurrence. He is now 7 years old and is goign to school. he had undergone physio theraphy and occupational theraphy to improve his right side ( hand, fingers and legs). He has improved a lot, but there is not much improvement in his right side fingers. I was told by one of my friends to apply fish oil on his right side, hand and leg and I am doing it right now every day. He even takes 1 tea sppon of fish oil everyday orally before going to bed.
Could you please suggest me what has to to be done to improve his right side. He had a tumor called Ependymoma.

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Vin Kutty, MS July 23, 2014 at 5:10 pm

Hi Surya – this is a medical condition and since I am not a doctor, I am neither qualified nor authorized to dispense medical advice. Having said that, giving him a teaspoon of fish oil every day is a great idea. But applying fish oil on the exterior of his hands and legs is a complete and utter waste of your time, money and I pity the poor kid for enduring the odor despite all that he’s had to go through.

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Vin Kutty February 12, 2014 at 7:46 pm

Hi Brandon – yes, AA/EPA is a good measure of inflammation. I don’t think you need to do this before treatment. Most of us are inflamed due to poor diet, regardless of stroke or brain injury. So you would not be gaining any extra insight. And this test takes a while get results because you have to send it off. You’re losing precious time in the meantime. Don’t delay treatment – talk to your doctor and get going.

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