Eating fish just once a week could stave off Alzheimer’s by stopping the brain from shrinking

SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [Mailonline] By Jenny Hope – November 30, 2011 –

© Associated Newspapers Ltd

Eating grilled or baked fish just once a week could stave off Alzheimer’s by stopping the brain from shrinking, claim researchers.

A new study establishes for the first time a direct link between fish consumption and the health of ‘grey cells’ that are vital for memory and other key brain functions.

It used MRI scans to track the brain health of 260 healthy people over 10 years, and the link to fish consumption.

Eating grilled fish is believed to stave off Alzheimer’s in later life, according to a new study

Those eating fish at least once a week had higher levels of grey matter, providing the fish was grilled or baked – fried fish had no benefits.

The new 10 year study from US researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine will be presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

Lead author Cyrus Raji, from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, said: ‘This is the first study to establish a direct relationship between fish consumption, brain structure and Alzheimer’s risk.

‘The results showed that people who consumed baked or broiled (grilled) fish at least one time per week had better preservation of grey matter volume on MRI in brain areas at risk for Alzheimer’s disease.’

Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, which causes shrinkage of the brain, affect more than 700,000 people in the UK.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, leads to a progressive loss of memory and thinking ability.

Altogether 260 people were enrolled into the latest study, selected from a different research project on heart health, who had no mental deterioration.

Alzheimer’s sufferers face a progressive loss of memory and thinking ability

There were 163 patients who consumed fish on a weekly basis and the majority ate fish one to four times per week, based on questionnaire data.

Each patient underwent 3-D volumetric MRI of the brain which produced data that could be used to map the volume of grey matter in different areas of the brain over a 10-year period.

Regular fish consumption of one to four times a week was found to preserve grey matter and reduce the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

There was a fivefold cut in risk of developing memory loss known as mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s if there were bigger areas of the brain in the hippocampal, posterior cingulate and orbital frontal cortex regions.

The study controlled for age, gender, education, race, obesity, physical activity, and the presence or absence of apolipoprotein E4 (ApoE4), a gene that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

Dr Raji said brain volume was crucial to brain health and when it remains higher, brain health is being maintained. Declining levels of grey matter indicate that brain cells are shrinking.

He said: ‘Consuming baked or broiled fish promotes stronger neurons in the brain’ s grey matter by making them larger and healthier. This simple lifestyle choice increases the brain’s resistance to Alzheimer’s disease and lowers risk for the disorder.’

The results also demonstrated increased levels of mental activity in people who ate fish.

‘Working memory, which allows people to focus on tasks and commit information to short-term memory, is one of the most important cognitive domains’ said Dr Raji.

‘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.’

But eating fried fish however, did not increase grey matter volume or protect against cognitive decline.

Previous research found eating fish three times a week led to a reduction in harmful brain lesions that can trigger Alzheimer’s disease and stroke.

It is thought that omega 3 fatty acids in fish oils may reduce inflammation of the brain and play a part in brain development and nerve cell regeneration.

Oily fish contains the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acids, which are considered essential because the body cannot make them from other sources and must obtain them through diet.

Dr Anne Corbett, research manager of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘This moderately sized study adds weight to existing evidence suggesting that eating fish reduces your risk of developing cognitive decline.

‘However, this study did not account for lifestyle factors such as other foods or exercise which could also have had an effect.

‘The best way to lessen your chance of developing dementia is to eat a healthy diet including fruit and vegetables along with taking regular exercise and giving up smoking.

‘While research into the causes of dementia is important what is also vital is good quality services for people living with the condition. Alzheimer’s Society, as part of the Dementia Action Alliance, is today calling for dementia services to be protected from local authority cuts.’


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