Looking More Like Fish Is, Indeed, Brain Food

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One fish meal a week may reduce Alzheimer risk

COULD something as simple as eating fish just once a week help stave off Alzheimer disease? A new study suggests yes. Researchers at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging in Chicago compared the fish-eating patterns of more than 800 men and women ages 65 to 94 and then checked to see whether they developed Alzheimer disease several years later. The result: Those who ate at least one fish meal a week were significantly less likely to end up with Alzheimer disease than those who never--or hardly ever--ate fish.

This is not the first line of research into whether fish can protect people from Alzheimer disease. Two earlier studies that looked for a link between people's fish-eating habits and their risk for Alzheimer's found the same thing. And in research on mice and rats, animals fed diets enriched with omega-3 fatty acids contained in fish had superior learning acquisition and memory performance over animals not fed those acids.

A mechanism of action is far from being nailed down; Alzheimer disease is a complex condition with many factors that play a role in its development. But it is known that making fish a regular part of the diet helps reduce the risk for heart disease and diabetes--both risk factors for Alzheimer's.

Then, too, one of the omega-3 fatty acids in fish, commonly known as DHA, is among the most important fatty acids in components of brain cell gray matter called phospholipids. The more fish you eat, the more of these omega-3s will end up in those phospholipids. That's key because the specific part of the brain cells in which phospholipids are found are the membranes, which control the entrance and exit of material to and from each cell. Putting more DHA into them by changing the diet to include more fish therefore has an influence on cell-to-cell communication, affecting nerve conduction, neurotransmitter release, and other things that allow brain cells to send messages to each other.

One fish that's relatively high in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA--and much lower than many other types of fish in mercury, which has some people nervous about increasing their fish consumption--is salmon. If it's canned, it's very easy to prepare. Just add some chopped onion and a squirt of lemon juice. Or, for something a little more elegant that can serve as a light supper, try our quick recipe on page 7.

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