A new study from the Journal of the American Medical Association has confirmed the long term benefits of eating fish has on the brain. Eating fish on a regular basis has been associated with a lowered risk of Alzheimer’s. There has been some concerns in the past that elevated mercury levels in fish and frequent consumption thereof might counteract the health benefits of fish, but this report stated that the study found the level of mercury in consumers was too low to induce harm, and the number of benefits that come along with fish consumption far outweigh the potential risks.
Rush Medical Center had conducted the study with 554 residents of the Chicago area, who were all part of the same exam. It focused on long-term ageing in the elderly and all of the participants were in the 10-year study up until their death. The participants agreed to fill out questionnaires throughout the study to gather data on diet of each individual involved. Questions included, amongst other things, how much fish they ate and how frequently it was consumed. While not the most precise way to collect data, it is the only way they were able to gather this much information on this large of a scale over such a long period of time. The researchers conducted autopsies on all participants. This allowed them to study the brain directly for physiological changes. An example of the kind of changes they were looking for are neuritic plagues, which primarily signal Alzheimer’s or related neurological disease.
The studies showed that individuals who consumed seafood a minimum of four times a month had measurably lower physiological signs of Alzheimer’s. None of the participants enrolled in the study had any diagnosed dementia when they signed up to be a part of it in 1997. There was no measurable effect of fish oil supplements in those who did not eat seafood regularly, “Fish oil supplementation had no statistically significant correlation with any neuropathologic marker,” said the study, so the bad news for those that do not have a taste preference for fish is that the supplements don’t seem to have much health benefit. The only marked effect came from eating the fish. This is not the first study to make the correlation between fish and decreased risk of Alzheimer’s, in fact the authors of the paper detailing the results cite as many as 13 previous studies. This is, however, the first study to specifically focus on physical brains after death, as well as diet and the mercurial levels and the potential harm therein.
While in the past the idea that fish and other seafood is “brain food” is an idea that has been dismissed as more folklore than fact, this study has seen a numerically significant result determining that it’s nutritionally sound. Omega-3 fatty acids are key to several parts of healthy body function including reducing the risk of heart disease, but the most significant benefit of omega-3 is healthy brain function, as the largest part of the brain is made of Omega-3 fats. 60% of the fats found in the brain are omega-3 with DHA, which is the same type of fat found in fish. They are so pivotal to brain function and development that omega-3 is often added to baby formula, and pregnant women are often encouraged to eat fish multiple times a week.