Did your mom ever tell you that you should eat your fish because it’s brain food? Mine sure did. And it turns out she was right all along. (Thanks, Mom!)
Researchers say eating more fish really can slash your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
And yes, that’s despite any potential mercury exposure. (More on that later.)
Experts say as we age, the level of the critical omega-3 fatty acid DHA drops in our brains. And it practically plummets in many folks with Alzheimer’s disease.1,2
Which means supplements, or foods rich in omega-3s, could help us fight off cognitive decline.3
Avoid Alzheimer’s with seafood
In a study presented at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting researchers confirmed the relationship between eating omega-3 packed fish and brain health.
Using sophisticated brain scanning equipment, combined with an intensive food survey, the researchers made a startling discovery.
Folks who ate the most broiled or baked fish had significantly fatter gray matter.
Which is important, because unlike most other places on your body, you WANT your brain to be on the hefty side. Because chubby gray matter means you have a lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The fish fans in the study had measurably larger frontal lobes and hippocampi. And experts say that’s significant because those areas of your brain are vital for good cognition and memory.
In fact, those exact same areas typically take a hit when someone develops dementia.
And that drop in Alzheimer’s risk? Nothing to sneeze at. The fish eating folks had a nearly five-fold lower risk for cognitive decline than their peers who shunned seafood.
A number of other studies have suggested omega-3s, like those you find in fish, could help protect our brains to avoid Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia too.4,5,6
Plus animal research has revealed these potent fatty acids fight the inflammation, beta-amyloid plaques and tau proteins that are behind Alzheimer’s disease.
Trying to avoid Alzheimer’s but concerned about mercury?
And for seafood lovers concerned about mercury exposure overshadowing those brain benefits, there’s good news too. A long term study which followed a group of older adults for over 15 years gave us the thumbs up to continue indulging in fish.
Brain autopsies have revealed that mercury levels are higher in those folks who frequently ate fish. But there weren’t any negative neurological effects from it.7
In fact, the brains of folks who ate seafood at least once a week had significantly less amyloid plaque buildup, and other signs of Alzheimer’s, than their peers who shunned seafood.
In other words, the brain benefits of eating seafood far outweigh any negative effects from mercury.
And now a new study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, has uncovered yet one more way your fish habit could be helping you avoid Alzheimer’s disease.
Using special scans researchers were able to connect omega-3 levels in volunteer’s bodies to increased blood flow in specific areas of their brains. Folks with higher omega-3s had increased flow to the areas of their brains linked to memory and cognition.8
Lead author Dr. Amen explained, “This is very important research because it shows a correlation between lower omega-3 fatty acid levels and reduced brain blood flow to regions important for learning, memory, depression and dementia.”
It’s time to take mom’s advice and start eating more brain food. Aim to eat wild-caught fish at least once a week to support your brain health and avoid Alzheimer’s.
1. “Docosahexaenoic acid: A positive modulator of Akt signaling in neuronal survival,” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Aug 2; 102(31): 10858–10863
2. “Low serum cholesteryl ester-docosahexaenoic acid levels in Alzheimer’s disease: a case-control study,” Br J Nutr. 2003 Apr;89(4):483-9
3. “Dietary supplementation of arachidonic and docosahexaenoic acids improves cognitive dysfunction,” Neurosci Res. 2006 Oct;56(2):159-64
4. “High dietary and plasma levels of the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid are associated with decreased dementia risk: the Rancho Bernardo study,” J Nutr Health Aging. 2011 Jan;15(1):25-31
5. “DHA may prevent age-related dementia,” J Nutr. 2010 Apr;140(4):869-74,” J Nutr. 2010 Apr;140(4):869-74
6. “[Mechanism of improvement of spatial cognition with dietary docosahexaenoic acid],” Nihon Yakurigaku Zasshi. 2002 Nov;120(1):54P-56
7. “Association of Seafood Consumption, Brain Mercury Level, and APOE ε4 Status With Brain Neuropathology in Older Adults,” JAMA. 2016;315(5):489-497
8. “Quantitative Erythrocyte Omega-3 EPA Plus DHA Levels Are Related to Higher Regional Cerebral Blood Flow on Brain SPECT,” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, May 2017 DOI: 10.3233/JAD-17028
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