Rx for Brain: Baked or Broiled Fish Every Week

Cooked salmonHere’s an easy way to boost your brain health, especially if you’re worried about memory loss or dementia: Eat any kind of fish – as long as it isn’t fried – at least once a week.

That’s the surprising result of a new study looking at simple lifestyle changes a person could make to help protect against Alzheimer’s or cognitive decline.

By looking at MRI brain scans of healthy older adults enrolled in a 10-year study, the researchers found that those who regularly ate baked or broiled fish had more gray matter in the brain regions responsible for memory and cognition.

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That’s right – eating fish results in a bigger brain, something your mother probably told you when you were a picky kid poking at your fish fingers (which are bad for you, by the way; the high heat of frying seems to do away with fish’s brain benefits, the study found).

What’s also important is that omega-3 fish oils didn’t seem to play a large role in the study’s results. In other words, it didn’t matter whether the fish was high or low in omega-3 oils, which have been touted for brain health – what mattered was that people regularly ate fish, any fish, as long as it wasn’t fried.

“There wasn’t one type of fish that was the best,” lead researcher Cyrus Raji, a radiologist with University of California, Los Angeles, told the Atlantic. “All that mattered was the method of preparation.”

Those who ate fish just once a week had a hippocampus -the memory and learning center of the brain – that was 14 percent larger than that in people who didn’t eat fish as frequently, Raji explained. “That has implications for reducing Alzheimer’s risk,” he told the Atlantic.

He also noted that, in the fish eaters, the orbitofrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making, was 4.3 percent larger. “I don’t know of any drug or supplement that’s been shown to do that.”

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The research team analyzed data from 260 older adults who answered questions about what they ate and how it was prepared, had high-resolution brain MRI scans and were cognitively normal at two testing points during their participation in the Cardiovascular Health Study (CHS), a 10-year multicenter effort that began in 1989 to identify risk factors for heart disease in people 65 or older.

Scientists estimate that more than 80 million people will have dementia by 2040, which not only could be a substantial burden on families but also could drive up health care costs, according to study author James Becker, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Making lifestyle changes, including eating a healthier diet and getting more physical activity, could lead to fewer cases of Alzheimer’s, he said in a statement.

Photo: elenathewise/iStock

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