The Takeaway: A Fishy Way To Boost Brain Health; Using Hallucinogens In Health Care

Forget the Fish Fry: Eating fish at least once per week can seriously reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, researchers say-but only if the fish has been cooked in a way that preserves its oh-so-important Omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3′s, abundant in most fish, help increase blood flow to the brain, reduce inflammation and limit the build-up of the harmful brain plaques which can lead to cognitive impairment. Baking or broiling preserves fish’s Omega-3′s the most. Fried fish, however, retains little of these fatty acid-and has no significant brain-protecting effect.

The potentially beneficial effect of fish and Omega-3 fatty acids on brain health is well-known, but previous study results on the issue have been mixed. In this most recent study, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh questioned a group of 260 healthy, older volunteers about how regularly they ate fish. Ten years later, they took brain scans of the same individuals, finding those who ate fish regularly suffered much less shrinkage in certain areas of the brain tied to memory. Five years after that, they brain-scanned again. In the end, 31 percent of non-regular fish eaters in the study developed Alzheimer’s or mild cognitive impairment, compared with only three- to eight percent of those who ate fish at least once a week. Lead researcher Cyrus A. Raji said:

“We know from other studies that salmon gives the maximum amount of Omega-3 fatty acid … but we did not look at which fish people were eating in the study.

Studies like this definitely justify trials that will look at Omega-3 fatty acid supplements. Having said that, I would speculate that taking supplements is no substitute for a lifetime of eating fish.”

Other brain health experts point out that it’s not clear whether participants’ weekly fish habit or ‘other underlying factors’-maybe the fish eaters had a better diet all around?-contributed to their lower risk.

Turn On, Tune In, Get Better? Hallucinogens are increasingly being studied for legitimate therapeutic uses, including treatment of addiction, chronic pain, depression and the anxiety associated with terminal illness, the Los Angeles Times reports. We’ve been through this before, sort of: In the 1950s and 60s, researchers explored the use of hallucinogens in areas such as psychotherapy. But backlash-spurred by the drugs’ popular appeal and rumors that the government was testing these drugs for mind-control purposes-stunted the budding research. Until now.

 “We’re trying to break a social mind-set saying these are strictly drugs of abuse,” said Rick Doblin, a public policy expert who founded the Multidisciplinary Assn. for Psychedelic Studies in 1986 to encourage research on therapeutic uses for medical marijuana and hallucinogens. “It’s not the drug but how the drug is used that matters.”

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