July 23, 2003
A weekly serving of fish or nuts may cut your risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, a study in the medical journal Archives of Neurology reports. Researchers at Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago studied 815 nursing home residents aged 65 and older for seven years. None had Alzheimer's at the start of the study in 1993, though 131 went on to develop the mind-robbing ailment during the course of the trial.
Men and women who reported eating fish at least once a week had a 60 percent lower risk of getting Alzheimer's compared to those who rarely or almost never ate fish. "Our findings suggest that consumption of fish--at least weekly--may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease," concluded Martha Clare Morris, a lead author of the study. She cited oil-based salad dressings and nuts--which contain the same kinds of polyunsaturated fats found in fish--as additional foods that may afford protection. Similar types of fatty acids are found in the membranes that surround brain cells.
Good Fats, Bad Fats
These findings do not mean that eating these foods will prevent Alzheimer's outright, since genes and many other factors are thought to play important roles in the onset of this devastating illness. Still, the "good" fats found in fish, nuts and heart-healthy oils may be one of many variables that help keep the mind sharp into old age. Earlier studies have shown that the oils in fish, called omega-3s, are good for the heart and blood vessels and can dramatically reduce the risks of having a fatal heart attack.
Two population studies also suggested that eating fish may reduce your Alzheimer's risk. The oils may also reduce inflammation, which some research has linked with Alzheimer's, and in animal studies, they have led to improved learning and memory. Omega-3s are particularly abundant in oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. Other foods high in "good" polyunsaturated oils include almonds, walnuts and many other types of nuts, as well as canola, walnut, soybean and flaxseed oils. The polyunsaturated fats found in these foods are thought to protect against many of the maladies of aging.
In contrast, the so-called "trans" fats found in processed snacks and baked goods, as well as the saturated fats found in steak, butter and other animal products, have been linked to clogged arteries and other health problems. Other foods that have been linked to a possible reduced risk of Alzheimer's include fruits and vegetables high in the cancer-fighting compounds known as antioxidants. Additional study on the connection between diet and a healthy brain is required. In the meantime, enjoy a leafy salad, a handful of nuts, and an order of fish for dinner. It may be a wise choice for staying healthy and alert.
By Toby Bilanow, Medical Writer, for www.ALZinfo.org. The Alzheimer's Information Site. Reviewed by Samuel E. Gandy, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board, Fisher Center for Alzheimer's Research Foundation.