Seafood contains omega-3 fatty acids, which, according to new research, may be the key to warding off cognitive decline. According to a press release issued by Rush University Medical Center, a new study found that eating a seafood meal or another meal high in omega-3 fatty acids once a week may protect against memory loss and thinking problems in older people. Seafood also is an excellent source of protein. It’s lean and low-calorie, low in saturated fat and contains many essential nutrients.
“This study helps show that while cognitive abilities naturally decline as part of the normal aging process, there is something that we can do to mitigate this process,” says senior author Martha Clare Morris, ScD, in the press release. Morris is a nutritional epidemiologist at Rush.
To conduct the study, researchers enrolled 915 participants from over 40 retirement communities across northern Illinois. The average age of participants was 81.4 years old. At the beginning of the study, none of the participants had dementia. The researchers gave each person annual, standardized tests that measured cognitive abilities in five areas—episodic memory, working memory, semantic memory, visuospatial ability and perceptual speed.
Participants also received a questionnaire asking about their consumption of four different categories of seafood: tuna sandwiches; fish sticks, fish cakes and fish sandwiches; fresh fish as a main dish; and shrimp, lobster and crab. Researchers divided the participants into two groups based on whether they ate seafood at least once a week or not. People in the higher group ate an average of two seafood meals a week, and those in the lower group ate an average of 0.5 seafood meals a week. The study found that people who ate more seafood suffered less decline in semantic memory—the memory of verbal information—and perceptual speed—the ability to quickly compare letters, objects and patterns. These results were the same after adjusting for many factors, such as education, physical activity and smoking. There was no significant difference in rate of decline for the other three types of memory.
Seafood contains a type of omega-3 fatty acid that is the main structural component of the brain. Though previous studies have shown that eating seafood can decrease risk for Alzheimer’s, this is the first study that links seafood to specific cognitive functions.
The full study was published in Neurology. It was funded by the National Institute on Aging. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.
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