The Mediterranean diet has recently received many accolades for its aid in heart health, yet a new study discovered its contents may be largely beneficial to the brain as well.
When nine doctors and one graduate professional from research centers across the country came together to examine risk factors for dementia, the researchers discovered that lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids—frequently found in marine life— were linked to mental decline and overall smaller brains.
Lead author on the study, Zaldy Tan, M.D., M.P.H., and his colleagues explain that low levels of omega-3s found within red blood cells “are associated with smaller brain volumes and a ‘vascular’ pattern of cognitive impairment even in persons free of clinical dementia.”
Past studies have demonstrated a link between fatty fish intake and decreased risks of the disease, and this study further finds “accelerated structural and cognitive aging” in healthy adults with lower levels of omega-3s.
This investigation used data from the Framingham Study in which 1,575 participants between ages 58 and 75 received brain MRIs and engaged in a variety of cognitive testing. Of those tests, this study monitored results of three representing features previously associated with dementia.
These included the Logical Memory test, the Visual Reproduction test, as well as the Similarities test.
The authors note, “participants in the top quartile of [omega-3] levels had 37-percent and 47-percent lower risks of Alzheimer disease and all-cause dementia, respectively. On the contrary, those in the bottom quartile had smaller brains with greater white matter hyperintensity, characteristic of increased risks of mental illness.
Dr. Tan explains the significance of these differences, stating, “people with lower blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids had lower brain volumes that were equivalent to about two years of structural brain aging.”
Moreover, the amount of omega-3 in red blood cells positively correlated with performance tests in visual memory, executive function, and abstract thinking.
Radio talk show host, Gabe Mirkin, M.D., a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor College of Medicine, promotes omega-3s on his website. He divulges further benefits and dietary sources of this nutritious fatty acid for readers.
“Omega-3 fish oils help to prevent heart attacks and reduce pain and swelling in diseases such as arthritis, psoriasis, and possibly even asthma,” he writes.
Dr. Mirkin further informs those not privy to omega-3s that the fatty acids are also found in whole grains, legumes, and other seeds as well as leafy greens.
Mirkin, however, notes that omega-3s are the least stable fatty acids in our diet, and turn rancid quicker in fish form. He believes, “the omega-3 fatty acids in seeds such as whole grains may be even more important in maintaining your health than the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish,” although the effects of fish sources tend to materialize quicker.
Those interested in maintaining a brain that’s large and in charge should consume whatever omega-three variety they’re more likely to sustain.
The National Insitute of Health contributed funding to the study, published in the print issue of the journal Neurology, where Dr. Tan disclosed professional ties with Monsanto, Aker Biomarine, Acast Pharma, Unilever, Neptune, Omthera, and GlaxoSmithKline within their scientific advisory committees.