We’ve all heard that fish is good for the brain. This statement is now factually supported by a study that was published in JAMA which proves that consuming fish at least once a week is linked to a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s disease – a neurological disorder where the death of brain cells causes memory loss and cognitive decline.

DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in foods such as salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, prawns and mussels could be the key in preventing Alzheimer’s disease. The cognitive functions shown to be affected by the DHA-rich fish oil, namely memory and working memory, are among the most important functions of our brains for everyday activities such as working, driving, shopping, studying and playing sports.

Researchers emphasize that it’s even more important for adults to include fish in their diet as aging is responsible for the loss of essential nutrients. The body cannot effectively produce the omega-3 fatty acid, so it must be consumed as part of a diet with DHA being one of the most highly concentrated fats in the brain.

Omega 3 is also important for our brain throughout life, from early cognitive development in foetuses to learning and memory in adults. Brain cells with high levels of omega-3 in their membranes are thought to be better at communicating with other cells, an important process for brain function.

When omega 3 is taken up by the body, some of it is broken down into other molecules that have important roles in the brain. Some are found to reduce the body’s immune response, while others are thought to be involved in protecting cells from a harmful process called oxidative stress. Research indicates that the immune response and oxidative stress in the brain may contribute towards the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Dr William Harris, co-author from the University of South Dakota School of Medicine said: “Although we have considerable evidence that omega-3 levels are associated with better cardiovascular health, the role of the ‘fish oil’ fatty acids in mental health and brain physiology is just beginning to be explored.

Research provides evidence that simple dietary changes could have a favourable impact on cognitive function.  Apart from combating the onset of dementia , research also shows that omega-3 fatty acids help to lower anxiety during pregnancy (however, pregnant women should still steer clear of fish that contain high mercury levels) and ease postpartum depression.

In children, fish is associated with having excellent brain health, including higher cognitive function and longer attention span. It also helps children to sleep better and reduces the risk for children developing depression. Not only is fish and seafood a good source of DHA and omega-3 fatty acids, but it also contains rich amounts of protein, vitamins D, B2 and B5, iodine, calcium and iron. A healthy diet should comprise of at least two portions of fish per week, including one oily fish.

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