Fish consumption on a regular basis may help to safeguard brain health

  • The impact of eating fish two–three times a week on cerebrovascular disease-related brain indicators was comparable to that of high blood pressure, which was linked to higher vascular brain damage.
  • Fish consumption has been linked to a decreased incidence of cerebrovascular illness and the associated reduction in cognitive function, according to health experts.
  • In healthy older people, especially those aged 65–74 years, a recent cross-sectional study discovered a relationship between increased fish intake and lower levels of indicators indicating vascular brain damage.
  • Cerebrovascular disease, also known as vascular brain disease, is the fifth largest cause of mortality in the United States, affecting the blood arteries in the brain.
fish consumption

Cerebrovascular illness, often known as vascular brain disease, refers to a variety of disorders that impact the brain’s blood arteries and circulation, such as stroke and vascular malformation.

Cerebrovascular disease is the world’s second most common cause of mortality. It is also the fifth largest cause of mortality in the United States, accounting for 37.6 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017.

Cerebrovascular disorders can lead to the development and progression of cognitive impairment and dementia, in addition to physical disability.

Furthermore, health professionals link subclinical cerebrovascular damage — that is, brain abnormalities detected early in the course of a cerebrovascular illness before symptoms appear — to a higher risk of dementia.

Cerebrovascular disease can be reduced by making healthy lifestyle changes such as dietary adjustments, increased physical activity, and quitting smoking.

For example, there is a link between eating more fish and having a decreased risk of stroke. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are abundant in fish, may mediate these advantages on cerebrovascular function.

However, there is conflicting evidence that eating fish lowers vascular brain damage before the development of cerebrovascular illness.

In a recent cross-sectional investigation, researchers looked into the relationship between fish eating and vascular brain injury in healthy older persons prior to the beginning of cerebrovascular illness.

The research found a link among eating fish two or more times per week and decreased levels of vascular brain damage-related brain abnormalities, especially in people under the age of 75.

“Our results are exciting because they show that something as simple as eating two or more servings of fish per week is associated with fewer brain lesions and other markers of vascular brain damage, long before obvious signs of dementia appear,” says the study’s senior author, Dr. Cecilia Samieri, a senior researcher at the University of Bordeaux in France. However, among adults 75 years and older, consuming so much fish had no protective benefit.”

The research was published in the journal Neurology.

Examining the health of the cerebrovascular system

The data for this study was gathered between March 1999 and March 2001 as part of the Three-City Study, which attempts to better understand the link between vascular disorders and dementia in adults aged 65 and above.

The study included 1,623 participants from Dijon, France, with an average age of 72.3 years. Individuals with dementia, a history of stroke, or hospitalization for cardiovascular disorders were excluded from the research.

Using brain MRI images, the researchers determined the amount of subclinical cerebrovascular injury.

Researchers looked at the MRI images for three indicators that are linked to subclinical cerebrovascular damage:

  • enlargement of perivascular spaces
  • white matter abnormalities
  • infarcts

Axons, or nerve fibers, that carry messages between brain areas make up white matter. Cerebrovascular disease can induce nerve fiber degeneration as well as damage to the myelin sheath that protects nerve fibers. White matter abnormalities develop as a result of this.

Infarcts are areas of dead tissue caused by a lack of blood flow. A blood clot in a blood artery is frequently to blame.

The fluid-filled regions that surround blood arteries are known as perivascular spaces. They’re linked to cerebral small vessel disease when they’re enlarged.

Each of these indicators can be used to predict the severity of cognitive impairment caused by cerebrovascular illness. Previous research has found that a single measure derived from the combination of various cerebrovascular disease indicators is a stronger predictor of cognitive impairment than any single sign.

The global cerebrovascular disease burden is a composite estimate of several cerebrovascular disease indicators used by scientists.

Fish consumption and subclinical cerebrovascular disease

With the use of a simple questionnaire, the researchers analyzed the individuals’ weekly intake of several dietary items, including meat, fish, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and cereals.

They looked examined the link between the worldwide burden of cerebrovascular illness and the frequency with which people eat fish. They discovered a relationship between eating more fish and having lower levels of cerebrovascular disease markers.

Individuals who ate fish twice or more per week had lower levels of cerebrovascular disease indicators than those who ate fish less frequently.

Furthermore, age impacted the strength of the link between lower levels of cerebrovascular disease markers and frequency of fish consumption. This link was best among those aged 65–69 years old, but it was not statistically significant among those aged 75 and over.

After controlling for a variety of factors such as age, sex, physical activity levels, education levels, brain capacity, and food intake, the researchers found comparable results.

High blood pressure is linked to an increased risk of cerebrovascular illness, according to specialists. Regardless of the individuals’ age, the authors of the present study found a comparable link between cerebrovascular disease marker levels and high blood pressure.

The researchers evaluated the influence of high blood pressure on cerebrovascular disease indicators with the frequency of fish consumption to put the findings into context.

Fish consumption twice a week had a comparable effect on cerebrovascular disease marker levels in participants aged 65–69 years as high blood pressure, albeit in the opposite direction.

Furthermore, the effect of eating fish four or more times per week on vascular brain injury indicators was twice as large as the effect of high blood pressure.

Medical News Today talked with Dr. Jyrki Virtanen, an associate professor at the University of Eastern Finland who was not engaged in the study.

“This is a fascinating and possibly significant study,” he added, “since it shown that fish consumption may be helpful to the brain and that advantages can be detected even before overt indications or symptoms arise.”

“The magnitude of the association was also quite significant, as it was about similar to hypertension (a major risk factor for cerebrovascular disease), but in the opposite direction.”

– Dr. Jyrki Virtanen

“An interesting finding was also that the beneficial association was mainly observed among the younger participants,” he clarified. “This might imply that in order to reap the benefits of fish consumption on brain function, one should begin eating fish at a young age.”

Limitations and strengths

The utilization of high-resolution MRI images to analyze three separate indicators and produce a more comprehensive measure of overall cerebrovascular health is one of the study’s benefits.

The data was also evaluated after a number of characteristics were taken into account, including lifestyle choices, educational levels, age, and other factors that may have influenced the results.

The study did, however, have certain shortcomings. “A key drawback of the study is that it is a cross-sectional observational study, so it cannot demonstrate causation between fish diet and improved brain health,” Dr. Virtanen said.

“Nevertheless, well-conducted observational studies can give solid evidence for diet-disease correlations in nutrition research,” he concluded.

The authors also point out that the food frequency questionnaire was only used once during the trial and that the results may not reflect long-term eating habits.

Magda Gamba, a nutritionist and doctoral researcher at the University of Bern’s Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today :

“This is an empirical research that links a single point in time measurement of fish intake to imaging markers of cardiovascular disease burden.” As a result, we can’t draw any definitive conclusions on fish as a brain-protective food.”

“More research is needed to determine if fish is the true determinant of the reported MRI markers outcomes in this study,” Gamba said.

“More study is needed to help us understand the mechanism of how eating fish may protect brain vascular health,” says senior author Dr. Samieri, “since diet is a factor people may change to potentially reduce their risk of cognitive decline and even dementia later in life.”

“This article adds to the knowledge about the connection among fish intake and brain health; younger adults appear to gain more, but in general, a healthy diet as part of a healthy lifestyle is recommended for all persons to keep the brain healthy and functional regardless of their age,” Gamba said.