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Want to keep your brain sharp in middle-age? Eat more fish, study finds

A fish made out of fish oil capsules
Getty Images

If you’re middle-aged and you want to keep your brain sharp, consume more Omega-3s, according to a San Antonio researcher.

Omega-3 fatty acids — the good stuff in fish oil — have been linked to improved cognitive function in older people. However, this study analyzed the omega-3 concentrations in the red blood cells of 2,183 dementia and stroke-free people with an average age of 46, according to lead author Claudia Satizabal.

The results were encouraging,

“We found that higher levels of omega-3 were related to both larger hippocampal volumes, as well as better scores on particular tests that assess abstract thinking or logical thinking.”

Higher hippocampal volumes are linked with improved learning and memory.

Satizabal is an assistant professor of population health sciences with the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio. She said this research adds more evidence to support the beneficial role of omega-3 fatty acids on brain health.

"This study highlights the importance in younger ages, not only in older age," Satizabal said. "You can start working to support your brain health in midlife."

This analysis also suggests that people with certain gene variants linked to cardiovascular disease and vascular dementia might see some benefits from consuming more omega-3s.

APOE4 is the strongest risk factor gene for Alzheimer's disease, and study participants with higher concentrations of the fatty acids in their cells had less small-vessel disease.

Satizabal said this encourages lifestyle adjustments for people with these gene variants.

“These people are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia, but if they could add more fatty fish, they will see benefits to reduce the vascular burden in the brain,” Satizabal said.

"There are a lot of things that you can do with your lifestyle to offset the harmful effects of some genes," she added.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines and over-the-counter fish oil supplements.

Texas Public Radio is supported by contributors to the Bioscience and Medicine News Desk including UT Health San Antonio and Dr. Johnny and Joni Reyna, supporting prostate cancer research and early detection to save lives.

Bonnie Petrie can be reached at Bonnie@TPR.org and on Twitter at @kbonniepetrie