In the latest study to confirm that fish is brain food, Pitt researchers have found eating baked or broiled fish once a week can keep you mentally sharp as you grow older, reducing the risk of developing dementia and other mental health disorders.
The findings, reported by scientists with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, add to growing evidence that lifestyle factors contribute to brain health later in life.
"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, a professor of psychiatry at Pitt. "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."
Experts estimate more than 80 million people will have dementia by 2040, which could become a substantial burden to families and drive up healthcare costs. Some studies have predicted that lifestyle changes such as a reduction in rates of physical inactivity, smoking, and obesity could lead to fewer cases of Alzheimer's disease and other conditions of cognitive impairment in the elderly.
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The antioxidant effect of omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in high amounts in fish, seeds and nuts, and certain oils, also have been associated with improved health, particularly brain health.
For the latest study, the research team analyzed medical information from 260 people who provided details on their dietary intake and underwent high-resolution brain MRI scans throughout the course of the study.
People who ate baked or broiled fish at least once a week had greater grey matter brain volumes in areas of the brain responsible for memory and better cognitive skills than those who didn't eat fish regularly, the researchers found.
"This suggests that lifestyle factors, in this case eating fish, rather than biological factors contribute to structural changes in the brain," Becker noted. "A confluence of lifestyle factors likely are responsible for better brain health, and this reserve might prevent or delay cognitive problems that can develop later in life."
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.
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