People who eat fish weekly may be reducing their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease or milder forms of memory loss. That’s the implication of a novel study that compared people’s fish intake with their MRI brain scans and tested mental performance (RSNA 2011). This is the first study to detect a link between fish consumption and the health of brain areas shrunken by the Alzheimer’s disease process. Funding for the study was provided by the National Institute on Aging.
Lead author of the study Cyrus Raji, M.D., Ph.D., said, “… people who consumed baked or broiled fish at least one time per week had better preservation of gray matter volume in brain areas at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.”
“Consuming baked or broiled fish [weekly] promotes stronger neurons in the brain’s gray matter by making them larger and healthier,” noted Dr. Raji (UPMC 2011)
The study’s results linked eating baked or broiled fish weekly to dementia-related brain areas over a 10-year period.
In contrast, eating fried fish was not linked to protection of gray matter or cognitive capacities. In contrast to the benefits of baked or broiled fish, no brain-volume benefits were seen in the men and women who reported eating mostly fried fish.
In contrast to the benefits of baked or broiled fish, no brain-volume benefits were seen in the men and women who reported eating mostly fried fish. Thus, “fried fish flunks the test!”
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Gray matter volume is crucial to brain health. When it remains higher, brain health is being maintained. Decreases in gray matter volume indicate that brain cells are shrinking.
The findings showed that consumption of baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis was positively associated with gray matter volumes in several areas of the brain. Greater hippocampal, posterior cingulate and orbital frontal cortex volumes in relation to fish consumption reduced the risk for five-year decline to MCI or Alzheimer’s by almost five-fold.
“Consuming baked or broiled fish promotes stronger neurons in the brain’s gray matter by making them larger and healthier,” Dr. Raji said. “This simple lifestyle choice increases the brain’s resistance to Alzheimer’s disease and lowers risk for the disorder.”
Dr. Raji’s team estimated that their bigger brains make it five times less likely that the fish lovers in the study would develop Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment (MCI) over the next five years. MCI is a mild, early form of dementia, where memory loss is much less than in full-blown senile dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Dr. Raji said, “This simple lifestyle choice increases the brain’s resistance to Alzheimer’s disease and lowers risk for the disorder.” (UPMC 2011)
The UPMC-led team also tested the volunteers’ cognitive and memory capacities, and those who ate baked or broiled fish weekly scored better versus those who ate fish infrequently.
Dr. Raji explained, “Working memory is destroyed by Alzheimer’s disease. We found higher levels of working memory in people who ate baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis, even when accounting for other factors, such as education, age, gender and physical activity.” (UPMC 2011)
The First-ever MRI Study of Brain Differences in Fish Eater’s
The authors selected 260 cognitively normal people, whose fish consumption was determined by administering the National Cancer Institute’s Food Frequency Questionnaire.
Out of all the participants, 163 ate fish on a weekly basis, and the majority of those ate fish one to four times a week. Every volunteer had two MRI scans of their brain, 10 years apart. The researchers then compared the brain scans to the volunteers’ reported fish intake – including their favored cooking methods.
They looked for significant links between diet and brain volume in key areas, adjusting the results to account for the differences in brain health status associated with variations in age, gender, education, race, obesity, and physical activity … as well as the presence of the apolipoprotein E4 (ApoE4) gene, which raises the risk of Alzheimer’s.
Specifically, eating baked or broiled fish weekly was linked to having greater brain matter volume in the areas of the brain typically shrunken in those in the Alzheimer’s disease process: brain areas specifically affected were; the hippocampus, precuneus, posterior cingulate, and orbital frontal cortex.
Some of our favorite fish recipes
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine (UPMC). Eating Fish Reduces Risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, Pitt Study Finds. Nov. 30, 2011.
Radiological Society of North America annual meeting (RSNA 2011). Raji C et al. Regular Fish Consumption Is Associated with Larger Gray Matter Volumes and Reduced Risk for Cognitive Decline in the Cardiovascular Health Study