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Fish Might Slash Your Risk for Dementia

Alissa Sauer
By Alissa SauerMarch 23, 2016

A study published in “Neurology” recently found that aging women who have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids have better preservation of their brain than those women with lower levels. The women with higher levels could potentially delay cognitive decline by one or two years. 

Learn more about omega-3 fatty acids in fish, and how it might slash your risk for dementia.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Fish

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential nutrients for good health. These fatty acids control blood clotting, build cell membranes in the brain, and can protect against heart disease and strokes.

Some studies have shown that omega-3s are potentially beneficial for conditions such as:

  • Cancer
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

A new study shows that omega-3 fatty acids may also protect against brain atrophy and slow Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

How Fish Might Slash Your Risk for Dementia

Over 1,000 women participated in the eight year study from the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls and Health Diagnostic Laboratory. Participants had MRI scans to measure their brain volume before and after the eight years. It was found that those women who had the highest levels of omega-3s in their blood (approximately 8%) had a hippocampus that was 2.7% larger than those with the lowest levels of fatty acids. Their overall brain volume was 0.7% larger, meaning their brain atrophied less than the women who had lower omega-3 levels.

Brain atrophy is a natural part of the aging process and while higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids did not grow the brain, it did slow the atrophy process enough to potentially slow cognitive decline.

Additionally, new research supports previous studies linking omega-3 consumption to better brain health. The study found that eating at least one serving of seafood each week could prevent Alzheimer’s and that brain boosting benefits of seafood are not canceled out by mercury levels, which if consumed at a high enough level, can be toxic to the brain.

The study, which began in 1997, surveyed participants about their diet each year and performed brain autopsies on the 286 participants who died between 2004-2013. All participants had the APOE-4 gene, which is associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. Researchers found that while the brains of people who consumed more seafood had higher levels of mercury, it did not appear to have an effect on neurological damage. They also found that those who reported eating seafood at least once a week were less likely to show signs of Alzheimer’s in the brain, like beta amyloid plaques.

Martha Clare Morris, lead author of the study and director of nutrition and nutritional epidemiology at Rush University Medical Center, said:

“The findings were very striking. Our hypothesis was that seafood consumption would be associated with less neuropathology, but that if there were higher levels of mercury in the brain, that would work against that. But we didn’t find that at all.”

While more research is needed to determine the exact effects of seafood on brain health, Morris says that “One theory is that seafood consumption may be more beneficial in older age because, as we age, we lose DHA in the brain.” DHA is an important fatty acid that is found in seafood. People with the APOE-4 gene are thought to lose more DHA, thus boosting the brain benefits of seafood.

James T. Becker, professor of psychiatry and associate director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh, believes the benefits of consuming healthier forms of fish can be extended to all brains, stating:

“The evidence is quite clear that people who consume healthier forms of fish [which are baked or broiled rather than fried] are going to end up with healthier brains.”

Adding Omega-3s and Fish to Your Diet

Although our bodies are not able to make omega-3 fats, we can get them naturally through our food or from supplements.

Consider adding these foods which contain omega-3 fatty acids, to your diet:

  • Fatty fish (salmon)
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Soybean
  • Flaxseed
  • Walnuts

It is recommended to consume at least one source of omega-3 fats in your diet everyday to ensure you are eating enough to reap the health benefits.

What do you think about the latest research to show how fish might slash your risk for dementia? In which ways have you added omega-3 fatty acids to your diet? Share your thoughts and suggestions with us in the comments below.

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Alissa Sauer

Alissa Sauer

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