By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder
The News about Fish and Brain Health Just Keeps Getting Better
There are many health benefits to including fish in your diet. These include lower blood pressure and a possible decrease in your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis. And recent research has now shown a link between eating fish and having a lower risk of developing vascular brain disease.
In case you are not familiar with it, vascular brain disease occurs because of damage to the blood vessels in your brain. Also known as cerebrovascular disease, it is a risk factor for such things as stroke, aneurysms, narrowing of arteries, and vascular dementia (which is not the same as Alzheimer’s disease although a person can suffer from both). It also can contribute to cognitive impairment and physical disability. One insidious aspect of this disease is that it can start doing damage even before you may have any symptoms. Cerebrovascular disease is the most common life-threatening neurological condition and the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.
Vascular Dementia &
It is worth noting that unlike Alzheimer’ disease, which is primarily associated with memory loss, vascular dementia caused by cerebrovascular disease primarily affects thinking and problem-solving speed. Changes in thought processes, which may be incremental rather than gradual, may include such things as: confusion, inability to organize thoughts, slower thinking, depression, and incontinence. In some cases, vascular dementia may be the result of a stroke (which can also be the result of cerebrovascular disease).
The Impact of Eating Fish on Cerebrovascular Disease
The study, which was conducted in France and published in the respected medical journal Neurology, looked at brain MRIs from over 1,600 people over the age of 65 with no previous history of dementia, stroke or cardiovascular disease. These participants fell into one of four group based on how often they ate fish. The researchers than compared the MRI scans to see if there were differences in signs of cerebrovascular disease between the four groups.
First off, they did find that people who reported eating more fish had fewer signs of vascular brain disease than those who ate less. They also determined that the link between eating fish and a lower incidence of vascular brain disease was more noticeable in people between the ages of 65 and 69. But this benefit of eating fish was not seen in people over 75. Researchers also pointed out that including fish in the diet shows a benefit even before any outward symptoms of cerebrovascular disease appear.
The research data also suggested that you should eat fish at least two or three times a week to see a benefit. To give some context to this benefit, the study showed that, in the 65-69 age group, eating fish twice a week had a similar effect as high blood pressure – but in the opposite direction. Eating fish four or more times doubled this positive effect. Younger participants also showed benefits from eating fish, so you should not wait until you are 65 to start to protect your brain health.
One thing to keep in mind is that this study was what is known as observational, so additional research needs to be done in this area to show a clear link between fish and reduced risk for vascular brain disease. But the evidence so far suggests a tangible benefit.
Other Ways to be Proactive
Since those dietary and lifestyle choices that benefit your heart also tend to benefit your brain, your best bet for helping reduce your risk for cerebrovascular disease would be similar. So, you should be managing your blood pressure, getting enough exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and keeping tabs on your cholesterol.
You also should drink alcohol in moderation (if at all) and quit smoking if you do still smoke. If you have diabetes, be sure to work closely with your healthcare practitioner to effectively manage it since this disease damages blood vessels. If your doctor has told you that you are prediabetic, follow your diet and exercise programs to help ensure it does not progress to full blown diabetes.
In addition to fish, there are other foods that have been shown to support your cardiovascular system. Number one among these are plant-based foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. I like to eat a big salad for lunch with as many colorful veggies as possible with a little bit of protein such as salmon. For dinner, I like to have two vegetables and then if I have meat, the serving is no larger than the size of a small deck of cards.
If you enjoy having meat in your diet, try to limit red meat to two small servings a week. For poultry, three servings a week is usually fine. You should, however, avoid processed meats – and processed foods in general. Also, reduce or eliminate added sugars as much as possible.
Enjoy your healthy life!
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