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Does Eating Fish Protect the Brain from Pollution?

A study finds that, for older women, eating fish a couple of times a week can provide protection against brain shrinkage caused by air pollution.
Does Eating Fish Protect the Brain from Pollution?
Grilled Fish with Julienne Vegetable. Isolated on White Background

Have you ever heard the “old wives’ tale” that fish is brain food? Although scientists were skeptical for a long time, studies show that eating fish is linked to a range of beneficial effects in the brain (Human Brain Mapping, April 15, 2019). Fish lovers also seem to age better

Could Eating Fish Protect the Brain from Air Pollution?

According to a study in the journal Neurology (online July 15, 2020), older women who eat one or two servings of fish or shellfish a week have less brain shrinkage. The researchers recruited 1,315 women between 65 and 80. The volunteers filled out questionnaires about their dietary habits. In addition, the researchers took MRI pictures of their brains and analyzed their blood. Moreover, based on the participants’ addresses, the scientists also calculated exposure to fine particles from air pollution. Usually, increased fine particle exposure is toxic to neurons.

Indeed, the analysis shows that women exposed to the most air pollution had less white matter in their brains. However, those who had the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had significantly less brain shrinkage than their peers who ate less fish. Consequently, the researchers suggest that eating fish once or twice weekly could help protect the brain. Fried fish did not count, because frying degrades the omega-3 fatty acids. Instead, they looked at baked or broiled fish, tuna casserole, tuna salad or other forms of canned tuna.

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We have several delicious fish recipes in our book, Recipes & Remedies From The People’s Pharmacy. If you would like to know how to make fish tacos with radish & lime, horseradish-crusted salmon with cranberry catsup (from Mark Liponis, MD, author of UltraLongevity), pescado al cilantro, salmon with fava beans and spring pea mash or spicy fresh tuna salad (from Eric C. Westman, MD, MHS), you may want a copy.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
  • Talukdar T et al, "Nutrient biomarkers shape individual differences in functional brain connectivity: Evidence from omega-3 PUFAs." Human Brain Mapping, April 15, 2019. DOI: 10.1002/hbm.24498
  • Chen C et al, "Erythrocyte omega-3 index, ambient fine particle exposure and brain aging." Neurology, online July 15, 2020. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1212/WNL.0000000000010074
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