News article

Eating fish weekly may prevent brain ageing: Study

Posted:  Tuesday, August 26, 2014

There might be some truth when it was said traditionally that fish is a brain food. Though dismissed as old wives tale, research has found eating baked fish slows down the aging process of the brain.

New study says that eating baked fish at least once a week may preserve parts of the brain that are hit hard by aging.

Brain scans showed that people over age 65 who regularly ate fish had 14 percent more grey matter in brain regions associated with memory and 4 percent more in areas devoted to reasoning than people who did not consume fish regularly.

Eating fish while pregnant may have benefits that go beyond early brain development. Studies have found that the children of mothers who eat fish while pregnant have better social and verbal skills at age eight compared to the children of mothers who never ate fish. Several studies have shown long-term benefits to children whose mothers ate fish while pregnant – results which back up the current recommendations for eating fish regularly. But the benefits of eating fish go beyond the early years. Researchers have found that many brain-related conditions may be prevented or even treated by good intakes of omega-3 fats, including problems like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and depression.

According to an American study, eating baked or broiled fish once a week may prevent age-related grey matter loss, regardless of how much omega-3 fatty acid it contains. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine tested 260 cognitively normal individuals over the age of 65 for ten years between 1989 and 1999. Participants were asked to fill out questionnaires about their fish consumption, had blood tests and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of their brains. The aim of the study was to determine whether dietary fish consumption was related to brain structural integrity among cognitively normal elders.

"Our study shows that people who ate a diet that included baked or broiled, but not fried, fish have larger brain volumes in regions associated with memory and cognition," said James Becker, senior investigator and professor of psychiatry at Pitt School of Medicine.

"We did not find a relationship between omega-3 levels and these brain changes, which surprised us a little. It led us to conclude that we were tapping into a more general set of lifestyle factors that were affecting brain health of which diet is just one part," Becker added.

It was estimated that more than 80 million people will have dementia by 2040. The findings suggest that lifestyle factors influence brain health and add to the evidence that prevention strategies need to begin decades earlier.

“Our study suggests that lifestyle factors, in this case eating fish, rather than biological factors contribute to structural changes in the brain,” said Becker.

“A confluence of lifestyle factors likely are responsible for better brain health, and this reserve might prevent or delay cognitive problems that can develop later in life,” he added