Fish: Is It Brain Food?

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Fish: Is It Brain Food?

Growing up in the 1950s, my mom always said, ?fish is brain food.? This may have just been a ploy to get me to eat fish on Fridays, but growing evidence suggests that the omega-3 fatty acids found in large amounts in fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, trout, herring, pilchards and mackerel can improve mental function. Not only are the omega-3 fatty acids found in large amounts in these fish needed to promote healthy brain and visual development in children, but growing evidence suggests they may help sustain healthy brain function in older people as well.

A recent study done in France examined the impact on mental function of different fatty acids in the diet of 246 people over 4 years. A higher proportion of stearic acid and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids in the diet were associated with a greater risk in cognitive decline. Stearic acid is a saturated fatty acid found in large amounts in red meat and chocolate. The major omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid is linoleic acid and is found in large amounts in most vegetable oils. Conversely, a higher intake of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) found in fatty fish were associated with a reduced risk of cognitive decline in these older people, age 63-74 years. The authors concluded that high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids is associated with more rapid loss of mental function with age.1

Bottom Line: The results of this study suggest that a diet lower in saturated fat and less polyunsaturated fat-rich vegetable oils but with more omega-3 rich fatty acids is good for the brain. Here are more strategies for improved mental function:

? Exercise regularly and consume more fruits and vegetables.

? Avoid insulin resistance associated with syndrome X and type 2 diabetes.

? Keep cholesterol and homocysteine levels in check.

? Reduce salt intake, which lowers blood pressure, which helps maintain mental function.

? Encourage a mentally challenging environment.2

By James J. Kenney PhD, RD, FACN

1. Am J Clin Nutr 2003:77:803-8

2. Mayo Clin Proc 2002;77:681-96

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