Being Maryland born and bred seafood has always been a staple in my home. My mother introduced all of us kids to fish early, telling us it was “brain food.” And it turns out mom was right.
A new study, conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania, has linked eating fish at least once a week to a higher IQ in kids. Plus fish fans appear to sleep better than their seafood shunning peers.
We already knew, of course, that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish were brain friendly. In fact, I’ve been reporting on the brain benefits of fish and fish oil for years.
Omega-3 rich fish is the original brain food
The omega-3 DHA is essential for normal brain function. Experts say this natural anti-inflammatory can improve your ability to learn. Plus the omega-3s could help boost the gray matter in your brain, fighting memory loss and boosting cognitive function.
The trouble is the DHA level in our brain starts to drop as we age. And it can practically plummet in the brains of some folks suffering with Alzheimer’s disease.
But studies have found omega-3s can help us protect our brains against that decline. The fatty acids appear to form a sort of shield against dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Which is why eating fish once a week can slash your risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Plus lab studies have found a DHA-rich diet can reduce the damage done to delicate brain tissues during a stroke.
Fish is also a good source of brain-friendly B12. Low levels of this vital vitamin are linked to a faster brain shrink as we age. And scientists say getting too little B12 can lead to cognitive decline.
In one long-term study, folks with the highest B12 levels did significantly better on memory tests than their peers with low levels of the vitamin.
Eating more fish could boost IQ points
In other words, there’s no doubt about it. Fish truly IS brain food.
But the new study reconfirmed the relationship, literally connecting diets rich in fish to better performance on IQ tests.
Researchers examined the diets of 541 children between the ages of nine and 11. Each of the children took a standard IQ test. And parents answered questions about their kid’s sleeping habits.
The scientists then did some serious number crunching. They were careful to account for any socioeconomic factors that could skew the results. But even after those adjustments, there was a strong link between eating more fish and significantly higher IQ levels.
The kids who tucked in for a fish meal at least once a week scored an average of 4.8 points higher on the tests than those who rarely or never ate fish. And kids who ate fish less often still appeared to get benefits. They scored an average of 3.3 points higher than the children who refused to eat fish.
Brain food benefits extend to the bedroom
But the brain food benefits don’t end with IQ. The researchers found fish eaters were better sleepers too.
The parents of kids who ate more fish reported that their children had far fewer sleep interruptions. Which might seem strange to you and me, but the scientists say they weren’t surprised.
They already knew that both lack of sleep and poor cognition are associated with antisocial behavior. And that research has found that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce antisocial behavior. So they felt it was only natural that there would be a connection between eating more fish and better sleep as well.
If you aren’t already eating fish once a week it’s time to start. Brain health is far from the only advantage your newfound love for seafood will give you. Fish, and fish oil, are also associated with better heart health, lower anxiety levels and a reduced risk for cancer.
And if you’re concerned about mercury exposure, don’t be. Research has found that in the end the benefits of eating fish far outweigh any negatives. Just be sure you’re choosing organic, wild caught fish such as salmon, tuna and mackerel. And check out the Environmental Working Group’s Seafood Calculator to help you make the healthiest seafood choices based on your age, gender, weight and health status.