Turns out mom was really onto something big when she insisted you eat your fish because it was brain food. Researchers confirm eating a serving of fish a week can indeed slash your risk of Alzheimer’s. And yes, that’s despite any potential mercury exposure.
More on that finding in a moment.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a link between fish eating and lower dementia risk. So let’s take a quick look at what we already knew.
Those of us that follow these kinds of things long suspected there was a link between brain health and fish. But then in 2011 there was an exciting development.
In a study presented at the Radiological Society of North America meeting researchers provided us with some solid proof of the relationship.
Seafood linked to a lower risk of Alzheimer’s
The study had revealed a link between eating fish and lower Alzheimer’s risk. Using an extensive food survey and 3-D MRI brain scans researchers found there was a strong link between regularly eating broiled or baked fish and less loss of the all-important gray matter in our brains.
The fish eaters had greater brain volume in both the hippocampus and frontal lobes, areas of the brain that are critical to memory and cognition and areas that are typically affected when someone is suffering from Alzheimer’s. In other words, the fish appeared to offer protection against the devastating disease, reducing fish fan’s Alzheimer’s risk.
And we’re not talking about a little drop in risk either. According to researchers the fish eater’s reduced their risks for cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s by almost five fold. They were five times less likely to have the condition than their peers who avoided eating fish.
Other studies over the past few years have added to the evidence that the omega-3s found in fish can offer a layer of protection against Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. But the question remained of whether not those protections might be overshadowed by the increasing amount of mercury found in seafood.
How mercury ends up in the fish we eat
While mercury occurs naturally in the environment, human industrial activities such as coal mining, smelting and waste burning has been sending increasing amounts of the heavy metal into the air. Eventually this airborne mercury ends up in our waterways where it’s eaten and absorbed by fish and other sea creatures.
And since big fish eat little fish the mercury levels rise higher and higher in larger fish.
In humans too much exposure to mercury can lead to reproduction issues and problems with the nervous system. And mercury exposure in unborn children is toxic to their brain development.
So scientists were still, understandably, a bit unsure if the brain protection offered by omega-3-rich fish could be outweighed by the potential mercury exposure if folks regularly ate seafood.
Eating fish gives you a healthier brain
Well fish lovers can rejoice. Because a study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Medical Association has confirmed that fish can indeed be your brain’s best friend.
Researchers began closely following a group of older adult’s diets in 1997. Later they dug into the relationship between seafood, mercury and dementia in the autopsied brains of a subset of the group who had died.
While they did find an increased amount of mercury in the brains of the folks who had eaten more seafood, it turns out those higher levels didn’t have any negative neurological effects in the fish eaters. In fact, it was quite the contrary. The brains of those participants who had eaten seafood at least once a week were less likely to have any signs of Alzheimer’s such as the amyloid plaques that are associated with the disease.
It’s some of the best evidence we’ve had yet that mom was right, for goodness sake eat your fish!
Dr. Allan Spreen
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