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

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A San Antonio researcher says increased omega-3 fatty acids for people in middle-age are linked to both larger hippocampal volumes and better scores on tests that assess abstract and logical thinking.

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.

Copyright 2022 Texas Public Radio. To see more, visit Texas Public Radio.

Bonnie Petrie is a proud new member of the news team at WUWM. She is a reporter who - over her twenty year career - has been honored by both the Texas an New York Associated Press Broadcasters, as well as the Radio, Television and Digital News Association, for her reporting, anchoring, special series production and use of sound.