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Eat Fish to Prevent Alzheimer’s Disease

The number of dementia sufferers in the world is estimated at 36 million people. This trend look set to get a whole lot worse. One report, jointly developed by the Alzheimer’s Disease International and the World Health Organisation, has estimated that this number will almost double by 2030, reaching 66 million and it could grow to an astounding 115 million by 2050. That is both an inconceivable amount of human suffering for those affected with the disease and their families, along with an equally unimaginable economic cost (the global cost of dementia in 2010 was estimated at £380bn, i.e. $600bn or €460bn), a figure that will grow tremendously in coming decades. It will be developing countries in the first place that will be hardest hit in coming years, with the ageing populations of low and middle income countries expected to face the biggest burden of increasing numbers of dementia patients. Not that the situation in the developed world would be much better. In the UK alone, there are over 800 thousand patients with dementia, a number which is forecast to rise to over a million within a decade.

It is the report’s first key message that catches the eye: ‘dementia is not a normal part of ageing’. That naturally raises the question of what can be done to deal with the situation. The scientific evidence of recent years tells us that many of our present-day chronic, degenerative illnesses may be preventable, at least to certain extent, by the adoption of a reasonably healthy diet and lifestyle. And just as it is believed that this principle applies to diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and some cancers, it is thought to apply to the ageing brain too.

This was confirmed by a fascinating study from the US, which followed over 800 residents from a Chicago-area for several years. The results were quite astonishing. Subjects in the study who ate fish at least once a week had 60% less risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease in comparison to those who rarely or never ate fish. It is important to mention here that this study was only an observational study, a type of study that cannot really prove cause and effect. Nonetheless, it is an interesting finding and one which has been confirmed in similar studies of this kind.

When we start analysing the specific properties of a type of omega-3 fish oil, DHA (found in abundance in oily fish such as sardines, salmon, herring, mackerel and fresh tuna), we can begin to understand how this could be possible. DHA possesses a number of potentially neuro-protective effects which could all explain the favourable effects of fish consumption on dementia risk, such as inhibiting neuro-inflammation, limiting the build-up of amyloid plaque in the brain, as well as maintaining the healthy vascular system. These, however, are not all the benefits of eating fish. We should remember that fish also provides a veritable feast of other valuable nutrients with the ability to protect the ageing brain such as vitamins D and B12, selenium and niacin.

Obviously, nobody is for a minute saying that just by eating fish once or twice a week dementia can be completely eliminated. That would be absolutely ridiculous. But it does give us little hope that we can gain certain control over the destiny of our health and improve our chances of preventing this degenerative ailment. Having said that, when it comes to diet, lifestyle and preventing dementia, fish seems to be just the beginning of the story.

Where to Find Related Information: Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation