You may not want to think about getting old, but eventually, we’re all going to be there. Preparation is key. We’re not qualified to give advice on investments or anything like that, but we’re definitely interested in ways that what you eat and drink can provide important building blocks for the future—yes, even as an adult.

For many, the part of aging that’s the scariest is the idea of your mind starting to go. Alzheimer’s is even more terrifying and sad—especially if you’ve watched a family member go through it, and you’ve known that person your whole life and watched them decline into someone you barely recognize.

Now, a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has found that eating baked or broiled fish—not fried, for reasons we’ll explain later—makes a demonstrable difference in brain areas associated with memory and cognition, according to the Atlantic.

Dr. Cyrus Raji is a resident radiologist at UCLA, and is also the lead researcher on this study. He says,

“If you eat fish just once a week, your hippocampus—the big memory and learning center—is 14 percent larger than in people who don’t eat fish that frequently. 14 percent. That has implications for reducing Alzheimer’s risk. If you have a stronger hippocampus, your risk of Alzheimer’s is going to go down.”

fish brain

Photo: American Journal of Preventive Medicine

The red and yellow areas in the image above are areas of the brain where people who eat fish once a week experience greater gray matter volumes. Dr. Raji went on, “In the orbital frontal cortex, which controls executive function, it’s a solid 4 percent. I don’t know of any drug or supplement that’s been shown to do that.”

What’s also interesting is that the group of researchers working on this project took omega-3 fatty acids into account. What they found was that levels of omega-3s in the blood did not necessarily correlate with increased gray matter volumes.

Dr James T. Becker, another member of the research team, elaborated:

“We did not find a relationship between 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 Atlantic reports that a 2011 study in the journal Neurology found that elderly individuals with higher omega-3 levels in their blood had better cognitive function, and MRIs also showed larger associated gray matter volumes. A separate study, published in the December 2013 issue of Experimental Gerontology, also found that diets rich in omega-3s coupled with eating a lot of fruit and very little meat results in increased gray matter volume. Additional recent studies in Lancet Neurology and by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine agree.

While this new study doesn’t agree that omega-3 fatty acids are key, what does seem clear is that eating any kind of fish once a week is a good thing—just not fried. Interestingly, the reason for not frying fish goes back to those omega-3s. Dr. Raji explained, “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.”

So basically, we don’t want to rule out the positive health effects of omega-3s as part of a healthy, brain-supporting diet just yet.

The key seems to be starting this good fish-eating habit relatively early in life. As Dr. Raji very bluntly told the Atlantic, “By the time you and I are in our 60s and we start worrying about Alzheimer’s, 80 million people in the United States are going to have it.”

As always, First We Feast has got your back. If you want to make incredible baked sea bass this weekend, check out our GIF Tutorial: How to Cook a Whole Fish, with Dave Pasternack.

[via the Atlantic, Design Trend]

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