Omega-3 Fatty Acids Help Decrease Dementia Risk

First Posted: Aug 04, 2014 12:49 PM EDT

Eating baked or broiled fish once a week could help to boost brain health, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that the omega-3 fatty acids found in this food helped decrease the risk of dementia.

Estimates show that over 80 million people will have dementia by 2040, leading to a substantial burden for both families and society involving significant medical costs and health problems. Previous studies have also shown that altering negative lifestyle habits, such as smoking and an unhealthy diet, can help to slow the progression or prevent this health issue all together. In addition, these findings showed that adding the anti-oxidant of omega-3 fatty acids to your regular diet could greatly improve health, particularly for those at an increased risk of cognitive issues.

"Our study shows that people who ate a diet that included baked or broiled, but not fried, fish have larger brain volumes in regions associated with memory and cognition," said James T. Becker, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, Pitt School of Medicine, in a news release. "We did not find a relationship between omega-3 levels and these brain changes, which surprised us a little. It led us to conclude that we were tapping into a more general set of lifestyle factors that were affecting brain health of which diet is just one part."

For the study, researchers 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 Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS), a 10-year multicenter effort that began in 1989 to identify risk factors for heart disease in people over 65.

"The subset of CHS participants answered questionnaires about their eating habits, such as how much fish did they eat and how was it prepared," added lead study author Cyrus Raji, M.D., Ph.D., who is a radiology residency training researcher at UCLA. "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, so we took that into consideration when we examined their brain scans."

Findings revealed that those who ate baked or broiled fish at least once a week showed greater grey matter brain volumes in areas of the brain responsible for memory (4.3 percent) and cognition (14 percent). They were also more likely to have gone to college than those who did not eat fish regularly. 

Switching up your diet with different healthy options can help improve your health and keep you satisified. Adding some fish to the mix certainly couldn't hurt. 

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