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It’s not fishy: Eating fish lowers the risk of cognitive decline

It’s not fishy: Eating fish lowers the risk of cognitive decline

Here in NOLA, we love our seafood! And as it turns out, our fish-eating habits are actually a plus for our brains. Did you know eating fish can lower the risk of cognitive decline?

You may have heard at some point that consuming fish benefits your heart. That’s true, but including certain fish in your meals on a weekly basis can also give your brain a boost.

There’s nothing fishy about it. Healthy nutrients in fish promote good cognitive health and can protect the brain as it ages. Let’s take a deeper dive into the topic.

How eating fish benefits the brain

We’ve long known about the heart health benefits of eating fish. Regularly consuming fish containing omega-3 fatty acids reduces the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. But it can also have a similar benefit for your brain health!

Fish consumption helps the brain in multiple ways. Those omega-3 fatty acids we mentioned above are indeed healthy for your heart. But one specific fatty acid found in fish—docosahexaenoic acid or DHA—is especially good for your brain.

Pregnant women who have taken a prenatal vitamin might recognize DHA as a common ingredient. That’s because DHA is a key part of prenatal brain growth and development.

It’s also beneficial long beyond pregnancy. The brain needs DHA to work efficiently, and not having enough in your diet can increase the risk of cognitive impairment.

Research shows that fish, included as part of a healthy diet, can benefit your brain in the long term by improving your memory and reducing cognitive decline. A study published in 2021 also found that eating fish at least twice a week could protect blood vessels in the brain from damage that may contribute to cognitive impairment, Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia (brain lesions that impact memory and other brain functions), and even stroke.

Those who are showing early signs of dementia or who have mild cognitive impairment may stand to benefit even more from eating fish. A 2020 study found that there may be a relationship between eating fatty fish and a lower risk of worsening cognitive decline.

The facts about fish-eating

OK, but now you have questions: How much fish is enough? What kind of fish should you be eating? What if you don’t like fish?

You don’t have to eat fish every day to reap the benefits and reduce your risk factors for cognitive decline. Experts recommend eating at least eight ounces of fish each week. If you’re keeping count, that’s two four-ounce servings of fish for dinner. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding can add an extra serving to that weekly recommendation.

What kind of fish? Omega-3 fatty acids are found in what’s known as fatty fish. These aren’t overweight fish—it just means they contain those healthy fatty acids. Whereas most meats contain unhealthy saturated fat, these fish contain the good stuff.

You can choose from a variety of fish, including salmon, tuna, mackerel and trout. Anchovies, sardines, oysters and other mussels are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Look for fish with a low mercury content since too much mercury can have a harmful effect.

Don’t like fish? You may not be able to change your taste buds, but you can still get your omega-3s. While fish contain the most omega-3 fatty acids, there are other food sources that you can include in your diet, too, including flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and soy.

You can also talk with your medical provider about taking a fish oil supplement to provide you with a dose of these heart-healthy fatty acids.

The bottom line? Get your omega-3 fatty acids on! Adding omega-3s into your diet can benefit your health in so many ways—lowering your risk of heart disease, protecting your brain health and potentially even reducing the risk of eye disease and lessening arthritis symptoms. All wrapped up in a regular serving of seafood!

Want to do all you can to stay healthy and well as you age? A regular checkup can help! Find a provider and request an appointment today.