Popular culture and conventional wisdom have often referred to fish and seafood as “brain food.” And in fact, a new study found that older men and women who regularly eat fish actually do have more brain mass in areas relating to memory and cognition. But you’ll be astonished by how few weekly servings of fish you really need to make an impact on your aging brain.
I’ll tell you all about this important study in a moment. But first, let’s back up…
I grew up in New England, where there was always plenty of fresh fish and seafood. But in many parts of the country, good seafood simply wasn’t available. And no matter where you lived, you could only get good seafood at a specialty restaurant. Average restaurants didn’t offer it. And the only “fast food” seafood restaurants you could find were the local clam shacks by the ocean in New England.
But last winter I learned that one of my neighbors (at our home in Florida) actually played an integral role in changing our nationwide access to seafood. He started the Chart House restaurants. The first one opened in Denver, CO in 1961. Today, it’s a national chain known for high-quality steaks and seafood.
Chart House was actually one of the first restaurants to offer steak and seafood on the same menu. Add a few “rusty nails”–a popular drink they invented–and suddenly we had a nice place where everyone in the family or group could go out and eat happily together. While I was in college, Chart House was the go-to place, if you could find one and get a reservation.
Without a doubt, my new friend helped make fish and seafood appealing and accessible to Americans all across the country. And thank goodness he did. As I mentioned earlier, research shows eating fish regularly helps protect the aging brain.
For this recent study, researchers followed 260 healthy older adults over a two-year period. They found that men and women who ate baked or broiled fish just once per week had increased gray matter (neuronal tissue) in key areas of the brain. Such as the hippocampus, precuneus, posterior cingulate gyrus, and frontal orbital cortex.
These weekly fish eaters literally had up to 14 percent larger brain volumes in regions responsible for memory and cognitive function.
But this isn’t the first study to show how your brain benefits when you eat fish…
In an earlier study, researchers linked tuna and other fish intake with a reduced risk of mini-strokes and a reduced rate of abnormalities of the brain’s white matter. And other evidence suggests eating fish reduces dementia risk.
Researchers believe these benefits occur because eating fish improves blood supply to the brain and reduces overall inflammation. This concept would also explain why eating fish improves cardiovascular health.
Of course, fish contains important omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA. And studies show men and women in late middle age with higher levels of these two nutrients have more brain volume and better cognitive function. Here again, researchers link DHA and EPA with blood supply from the cerebral blood vessels.
DHA and EPA also promote the growth and metabolism of neurons in the brain. And they can even improve nerve synapse activity in the brain. In other words, DHA and EPA help your brain function at a rapid-fire pace as you get older.
Of course, the federal government has done its best to destroy the fishing industry in New England. This historic industry dates back to the early 1600s. And it has survived fire, flood, storms, wars, and revolutions. But it could not withstand the federal regulators’ onslaughts.
For the past 25 years, we have spent time in the summer on the ocean near Gloucester, MA, near where I grew up. It’s the old fishing port situated between Salem and Newburyport, once the No.1 and No.2 commercial maritime ports in the U.S.
You can see the water from almost everywhere in Gloucester, as it’s surrounded on three sides by the ocean. The exception to this near-ubiquitous ocean view is from the new, expensive federal building, which houses the government regulators. These regulators have nearly put our age-old fishermen and lobstermen out of business. Yet the only time the regulators appear to go outside is during their frequent cigarette breaks. And during the stampede out the door at “quitting time,” after their abbreviated work days and weeks.
In just a few years, federal regulators have virtually shut down these New England fishermen–who routinely set out on three-month, 24-hour-per-day sea voyages. And they’ve been doing so for centuries.
You see, the government “experts” think they know better than the fishermen about how many fish are in the sea. But the fishermen have lived their entire lives on the sea, generation after generation. They give lie to old sea chantey, “there are plenty of fish in the sea, as good as ever were caught…”
It sounds like these government bureaucrats could use some real “brain food.” Too bad they’ve made it so scarce hardly anyone in America can afford it anymore.
As a reminder, make sure to purchase wild-caught seafood. Avoid farm-raised fish altogether. Fish like salmon that are raised on farms are crammed into small tanks. And they’re often fed soy, poultry droppings, and hydrolyzed chicken feathers and other waste.
Plus, farmed fish contain just a small fraction of vitamin D compared to wild-caught fish. And it has high levels of contaminants, such as brominated fire retardants, dioxin, and DDT. Experts estimate that you can probably eat farmed fish just twice a year without accumulating contaminants in your body like fire retardants. But any more than that and you’re playing with fire.
Of course, as important and beneficial as eating fish is, I also recommend taking 1-2 grams of a high-quality fish oil supplement that contains DHA and EPA each day.
- “Regular Fish Consumption and Age-Related Brain Gray Matter,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine published on-line, July 29, 2014
- “Quantitative analysis of dietary protein intake and stroke risk,” Neurology, published on-line, June 11, 2014
- “Diets Rich in Protein May Help Protect Against Stroke,” MedlinePlus (www. nlm.nih.gov) 6/11/2014