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Eating fish may protect the brain from air pollution

In a groundbreaking new study, experts have found evidence that eating fish can help protect from brain damage associated with air pollution.

The research suggests that older women who eat more than two servings of fish per week maintain  levels of omega-3 fatty acids that counteract the effects of air pollution on the brain.

The findings are published by the American Academy of Neurology. Study co-author Dr. Ka He of Columbia University noted that fish are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and easy to add to the diet.

“Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to fight inflammation and maintain brain structure in aging brains. They have also been found to reduce brain damage caused by neurotoxins like lead and mercury,” said Dr. He.

“So we explored if omega-3 fatty acids have a protective effect against another neurotoxin, the fine particulate matter found in air pollution.”

The research was focused on more than 1,300 women with an average age of 70 who did not have dementia at the start of the study. The participants reported on their diet, physical activity, and medical history.

The team calculated the average weekly amount of fish consumed by each participant, including tuna, shellfish, broiled, and baked fish. Previous research has shown omega-3 fatty acids are damaged by the process of frying, so fried fish intake was disregarded.

The experts examined omega-3 fatty acid levels in red blood cells, and analyzed exposure to air pollution based on the home addresses of the study participants.

Brain scans revealed that women who had the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had greater volumes of white matter in the brain. On the other hand, those who had the lowest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had more brain shrinkage.

The study revealed that for each quartile increase in air pollution, the average brain white matter volume was 11.52 cm3 smaller among people with lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids, yet only 0.12 cm3 smaller among women with higher levels of omega-3.

“Our findings suggest that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood from fish consumption may preserve brain volume as women age and possibly protect against the potential toxic effects of air pollution,” said Dr. He. 

“It’s important to note that our study only found an association between brain volume and eating fish. It does not prove that eating fish preserves brain volume. And since separate studies have found some species of fish may contain environmental toxins, it’s important to talk to a doctor about what types of fish to eat before adding more fish to your diet.”

The study is published in the journal Neurology.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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