A new study released by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine determined that lifestyle factors contribute to brain health. It is estimated that more than 80 million people will have dementia by the year 2040, representing a considerable public health risk.
In this study the anti-oxidant effect of omega-3 fatty acid has been positively associated with changes in the brain and improved cognitive functioning. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in high amounts in fish, seeds, nuts and certain oils.
“Our study shows that people who ate a diet that included baked or broiled, but not fried, fish have larger brain volumes in regions associated with memory and cognition,” Dr. Becker said. “We did not find a relationship between blood omega-3 levels and these brain changes, which surprised us a little. It led us to conclude that we were tapping into a more general set of lifestyle factors that were affecting brain health of which diet is just one part.”
The study participants consisted of 260 people who provided information on their dietary intake, had high-resolution brain MRI scans, and were cognitively normal at two time 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 over 65.
“The subset of CHS participants answered questionnaires about their eating habits, such as how much fish did they eat and how was it prepared,” Cyrus Raji, M.D., Ph.D., said. “Baked or broiled fish contains higher levels of omega-3s than fried fish because the fatty acids are destroyed in the high heat of frying, so we took that into consideration when we examined their brain scans.”
The research findings revealed that subject participants who ate baked or broiled fish at least once a week had structural changes in the brain with greater grey matter brain volumes in areas of the brain responsible for memory (4.3 percent) and cognition (14 percent). No association was found between the brain differences and blood levels of omega-3s.
“This suggests that lifestyle factors, in this case eating fish, rather than biological factors contribute to structural changes in the brain,” Dr. Becker noted. “A confluence of lifestyle factors likely are responsible for better brain health, and this reserve might prevent or delay cognitive problems that can develop later in life.”
Cyrus A. Raji, Kirk I. Erickson, Oscar L. Lopez, Lewis H. Kuller, H. Michael Gach, Paul M. Thompson, Mario Riverol, James T. Becker. Regular Fish Consumption and Age-Related Brain Gray Matter Loss. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2014.05.037