Did your mother ever tell you when you were growing up that you should eat your fish because fish is good for the brain?
I know mine sure did. And if yours did too, well, then apparently we both owe Mom a great big thank you. It turn's out she was, indeed, onto something.
A recent study presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America has confirmed what Mom already knew...that fish is good for the brain. Researchers announced that...for the first time ever...a direct relationship was established between eating fish and the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
The research team selected 260 people for the study who had no history of cognition problems. Participants were asked about their fish-eating habits using the National Cancer Institute's Food Frequency Questionnaire. Out of the entire group, 163 of the volunteers said they consumed fish weekly with the majority of the fish eaters eating one to four servings per week.
And here's where things get a little technical, but a lot interesting...
Keep your brain pleasingly plump
Each of the participants had a complex 3-D "volumetric" MRI scan of their brain done. Using advanced software, their brain scans were then mapped to measure the volume of gray matter and those findings were bumped up against the data on weekly fish consumption.
The goal was to create a model of the relationship between fish eating and brain structure both now...and in 10 years to determine if fish is good for the brain. The researchers were then able to analyze the data to figure out if more gray matter was retained when someone was a regular fish eater. And if so, if holding on to that brain volume reduced the fish eater's risk for Alzheimer's disease.
Now we already know that gray matter is important. Although most people start to lose some brain volume as they age the less you lose the better off you are. To put it simply...a plump brain is a healthy brain.
After adjusting for all kinds of factors that could have skewed the results...factors like age, gender, education, race, physical activity level, obesity, and even the presence of the gene that increases the risk of Alzheimer's (called apolipoprotein E4)...they came to a conclusion. The data clearly showed a positive association between eating baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis and higher brain-matter volumes in certain areas of the brain.
But here's the thing...
One of the most important findings was that several key areas in the fish eater's brains...the greater hippocampal, posterior cingulate, and orbital frontal cortex...retained more gray-matter volume in relation to the fish eating and, as a result, reduced the risk or both mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's by almost five fold!
In other words, the regular fish eaters had dropped their risk of experiencing cognitive problems or Alzheimer's disease by nearly five times. A pretty impressive payoff for something that's so darn easy to do.
And that's not all they discovered...
The findings also showed that the fish eaters had higher levels of working memory and were able to focus on tasks and commit information to short-term memory at a higher level than the non-fish eaters.
Serve up brain food to beat cognitive decline
Of course, being positively associated with something doesn't mean you can claim a cause-and-effect relationship. So, in other words we can't truthfully say, if you eat fish you definitely will not get Alzheimer's disease. But what we can say is that if you eat baked or broiled fish weekly you will greatly reduce your risk of ever getting the dreaded disease.
Now if you're a regular reader of the Guide to Good Health you already know that I recommend taking fish oil daily (just make sure to take 400 IU of a natural mixed-tocopherol vitamin E as well for extra antioxidant protection). And while this study didn't specifically look at fish oil's impact on brain function, other studies have.
One study in particular—conducted at Rhode Island Hospital's Alzheimer's Disease and Memory Disorders Center—that explored the connection between fish oil and cognitive decline had some interesting results. Researchers on the Rhode Island team found a positive association between the supplements and cognitive function suggesting that they can improve brain health.
So if you want to help ward off a shrinking brain, and the Alzheimer's disease that may accompany it, it's simple...listen to Mom and eat your fish. Just be sure to avoid the chemical-clogged farm-raised variety and choose wild caught instead. Oh, and don't forget to add in a daily fish-oil supplement for good measure.