Eating Baked Fish Slows Loss of Brain Cells
Another study using MRI scans of the brain found that older people who regularly ate baked fish had less loss of brain cells as well as better performance on cognitive tests.
While the research only shows an association between fish consumption and brain health, it is one of the first to take actual MRI measurements of brain volume and link it to the consumption of eating baked or broiled fish over the course of 10 years.
This kind of diet may have a protective effect on the brain said Piero Antuono, a neurologist at Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin, who was part of the study. "It shows that these people (those who eat fish) are physically different.
The study was presented in November at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of the North America.
The research involves 260 people with an average age of 71 who were cognitively normal at the start of the study.
In 1989 and 1990, they were asked how much fish they ate, and 10 years later underwent MRI scans of the brain as well as cognitive testing.
The scan measured preservation of the so-called gray matter, the brownish-gray tissue made up primariliy of neurons, the main cells of the brain. The more gray matter in the brain, the healthier it is. Decreasing amounts of gray matter volume is a sign that neurons are shrinking.
The study showed that people who ate baked fish at least once a week, had greater amounts of gray matter volume in three key areas of the brain involved in memory and recognition: the hippcampus, the posterior cingulate and orbital frontal cortex. Those who ate fish had a five times reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or mild cognitive impairment over five years.
"More fish gives you more brain and more brain reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease, said the lead author Cyrus Raji, a physician and researcher with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "Consuming baked or broiled fish promotes stronger neurons in the brain's gray matter by making them larger and healthier."
Antuono noted that baked fish is rich in omega-3-fats, which may improve vascular health in the brain. He also said that DHA, one of of the omega-3-fats in fish oil, is essential for the health of brain cell membraines.
On the other hand, it could be that people who regularly eat baked fish are less likely to eat unhealthy foods that can be damaging to the brain, he said. Raji acknowledged that his study shows only an association between eating fish and brain volume and that eating a lot of fish may be a marker for some other lifestyle measures that reduce Alzheimer's risk. In an attempt to rule that out, the study adjusted for a variety of factors such as education, race, obesity, physical activity and a gene known to increase Alzheimer's risk.
Still, he said, it was the first study to show a benefit from fish consumpition using MRI scans.
The issue of fish and omega-3-fats, which are found in high amounts in fatty saltwater fish, is an unsettled area of science.
Numerous observational studies have shown a link between eating fish and reduced risk of cognitive decline. But clinical trials in which vounlunteers were give high doses of omega-3 fish oil generally have not shown a reduction in risk.
The new study lends credence to the idea that the benefit from fish comes from eating just one or two servings a week, said Martha Clare Morris, a professor of nutrition and nutritional epidemiology at Rush University in Chicago.
She noted that the clinical trials in which people were given high-dose fish oil capsules also allow them to eat up to three servings a week. If the benefit comes from just a serving or two, that might explain why the clinical trials did not show a benefit, she said.
My Sicilian mother always encouraged me to eat the fish. She referred to it as "brain food" and claimed it would make us smarter. She only had an elementery school education but followed the traditional Greek food eaten by her mother and father born in Siciliy in 1880 and lived to the ripe old age of 88-years-old. They died in 1968 - living off the land, raising their own free-range chickens and eggs and drinking their own home-made red wine and goat milk. Now you know the background of this son and grandson of coal-miners who had very little but lived very healthy.