I come from a seafood state. So I can’t remember a time when fish wasn’t a common sight on our dinner table.
My parents constantly reminded me to finish my fish because it was “brain food.” And it looks like I owe them another big thank you.
Because it turns out mom and dad were definitely onto something.
As you age, your risk for changes in your brain that cause damage to your cerebral blood vessels begins to climb. Doctors call it vascular brain disease or cerebrovascular disease.
The condition is linked to cognitive decline. And with this damage, vascular dementia, stroke, and aneurism risks rise too.
Cerebrovascular disease is quite common in older folks. In fact, it’s the second leading cause of death in the world. And the fifth leading cause of death in America.
In other words, anything that can help head it off is a big deal. And according to a new study, fish appears to fit the bill.
Eating more fish linked to brain health
The cross-sectional study uncovered a clear association between better brain health and eating more fish. Healthy older adults who ate more fish had significantly lower levels of the signs of vascular damage in their brains.
The effect was most dramatic in the volunteers between the ages of 65 to 74. In those over 75, the link wasn’t quite as strong.
Eating fish two to three times a week made a MAJOR difference in the numbers of brain markers that showed up for this dementia-linked disease. In fact, it was similar to the effect that we would see with high blood pressure, but in the opposite direction.
But it gets even better. Because eating fish four or more times a week improved vascular damage markers to TWICE that of high blood pressure.
So, in other words, quite significantly.
The researchers from the University of Bordeaux analyzed MRIs from over 1,600 folks over the age of 65. None of the volunteers had a history of stroke, cardiovascular disease, or dementia.
They were looking for three common markers of cerebrovascular damage…
- abnormalities in the white matter
- infarcts (areas of tissue death caused by poor blood supply)
- enlargement of the perivascular spaces (fluid-filled spaces between blood vessels)
The participants also filled out questionnaires on their eating habits. This allowed the team to divide them into four groups based on how often fish was on their menu every week…
- less than once
- around once
- two to three times
- four or more times
Next, the scientists bumped up the images showing the signs of vascular disease in their brains against how often they ate fish. And the connections became obvious.
Drive down dementia risk with seafood
Of course, this wasn’t a cause-and-effect type study. Honestly, that would be tough… if not impossible… to do with something like this.
But the old adage “where there’s enough smoke to make you choke, there’s likely a fire” certainly applies here.
Plus, it’s not the first time we’ve seen links between seafood and circulation and brain health. Far from it, in fact.
For example, a study I shared earlier this year found that eating fatty fish twice a week could reduce your risk of stroke and heart attack by a fifth.
Or the one last year that found seniors who pick up a regular seafood habit could slash certain brain risks by 45 percent.
Fish, of course, is an excellent source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. And research has linked omega-3s to healthy brain aging and significant improvements in vascular function.
So if you’re a fish fan, you’re in luck. Shoot for eating wild-caught, fatty fish two to three times a week. If you’re not already a fish lover, it’s a good idea to try to develop a taste for it.
You certainly can increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids circulating in your bloodstream by taking fish oil supplements, too. And there are OTHER good reasons to consider them anyway.
But the jury is still out on whether or not fish oil supplements will have the same brain benefits… driving down vascular damage and dementia risk… as the real-deal fish.
And while you’re making that brain-friendly diet change, you can also adopt a couple of other healthy, noodle-supporting habits. Topping the list is quitting smoking and making sure to slip in some physical activity every day.
Check out my earlier report on 5 easy and effective exercises for out-of-shape beginners for some help getting started.