Eating baked or broiled fish once a week is good for the brain, regardless of how much omega-3 fatty acid it contains, say researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The findings add to growing evidence that lifestyle factors contribute to brain health later in life.
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Scientists estimate that more than 80 million people will have dementia by 2040, which could become a substantial burden to families and drive up health care costs. Some studies have predicted that lifestyle changes such as a reduction in rates of physical inactivity, smoking and obesity could lead to fewer cases of Alzheimer's disease and other conditions of cognitive impairment in the elderly. The antioxidant effect of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in high amounts in fish, seeds and nuts, and certain oils, also have been associated with improved health, particularly brain health.
For the study – a 10-year multicenter effort that began in 1989 to identify risk factors for heart disease in people over 65 – the research team analyzed data from 260 people who provided information on their dietary intake, had high-resolution brain MRI scans and were cognitively normal at two time points during their participation in the multicenter study.
Participants answered questionnaires about their eating habits, such as how much fish did they eat and how was it prepared. Baked or broiled fish contains higher levels of omega-3s than fried fish because the fatty acids are destroyed in the high heat of frying.
People who ate baked or broiled fish at least once a week had greater grey matter brain volumes in areas of the brain responsible for memory (4.3 percent) and cognition (14 percent) and were more likely to have a college education than those who didn't eat fish regularly, the researchers found. But no association was found between the brain differences and blood levels of omega-3s.
The findings suggest that lifestyle factors such as eating fish, rather than biological factors, contribute to structural changes in the brain. The lead researcher noted "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."
Source: American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2014.
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