Eating fish may be good for your brain, researchers say

People who eat baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis can possibly improve their brain health and reduce the risk of developing mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease, a new study shows.

Fried fish did not show the same results.

"This is the first study to establish a direct relationship between fish consumption, brain structure and Alzheimer's risk," said Cyrus Raji, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Pittsburgh’s Medical Center and School of Medicine.

"The results showed that people who consumed baked or broiled fish at least one time per week had better preservation of gray matter volume on MRI in brain areas at risk for Alzheimer's disease."

The study was presented … at a conference of the Radiological Society of North America.

Alzheimer’s disease – which affects as many as 5.1 million Americans according to the National Institute on Aging - is currently an incurable progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and cognitive skills.

While researchers may not be able to cure it, they say that it can possibly be prevented.

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI)

Mild cognitive impairment involves a lesser extent of memory loss than in Alzheimer's disease, but people with MCI often go on to develop Alzheimer's disease.

The 260-person study of cognitively normal individuals also showed that a weekly fish diet may also prevent MCI and improve brain health. Researchers also gathered information on fish consumption using the National Cancer Institute Food Frequency Questionnaire.

The authors explained that there were 163 patients who consumed fish on a weekly basis, and the majority ate fish one to four times per week.

Researchers said they measured the results by undergoing a 3-D brain scan. A brain mapping technique was used to model the relationship between weekly fish consumption at the baseline and brain structure 10 years later. Data was analyzed to see if gray matter volume preservation linked with fish consumption reduced the risk for Alzheimer’s disease.

When gray matter volume remains higher brain health is being maintained while the decrease in gray matter volume indicate that brain cells are shrinking.

The study’s findings showed that “consumption of baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis was positively associated with gray matter volumes in several areas of the brain.”

Greater gray matter volumes in relation to fish consumption reduced the risk for five-year decline to MCI or Alzheimer's by almost five-fold, the study found.

"Consuming baked or broiled fish promotes stronger neurons in the brain's gray matter by making them larger and healthier," Dr. Raji said.

"This simple lifestyle choice increases the brain's resistance to Alzheimer's disease and lowers risk for the disorder."

Higher Cognition Level

The results also showed an increased level of cognition in people who ate baked or broiled fish.

"Working memory, which allows people to focus on tasks and commit information to short-term memory, is one of the most important cognitive domains," Dr. Raji said.

"Working memory is destroyed by Alzheimer's disease. We found higher levels of working memory in people who ate baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis, even when accounting for other factors, such as education, age, gender and physical activity."

The study showed positive results for people who consumed baked or broiled fish, not fried fish, as fried fish did not show an increase in brain volume or protection against cognitive decline.