Fish Builds Brains – But Not if It’s Fried

December 01, 2011

Fish Builds Brains – But Not if It’s Fried 

 Reference:  USA Today Nov 30, 2011 

 Brain health is important.  Fifty percent of us will have Alzheimer’s by the time we are 85 if we don’t do something about it.  Eating fish just once a week may help with that, according to new research reported on in USA today this week.  But there is a big fat caveat.  It can’t be fried.  Fried fish doesn’t do you any good at all. 

 What this study did was very detailed brain scans that looked at the size of brains and then asked people what they ate.  They found a significant association between volume of brain and fish consumption, if it was baked or broiled, but not fried.  Those folks with larger brains had a five-fold reduction in risk for cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s, according to the lead author, Dr Cyrus Raji.  This study came out of a 10 year project in which 3-D MRIs were done on 260 healthy adults who were then followed for changes in brain volume.   163 of them ate fish at least once a week, so they had a good sample size to follow. How can you explain this benefit?  

Here’s my take.  Our brains have omega fatty acids as a major membrane ingredient.  As much as 40% of the dry weight of our brains come from DHA and EPA.  Our diet in America is so deficient in omega -3 fatty acids that any source will boost us.  Fish tend to have more omega-3 than feedlot raised animals.  Eating fish will provide you with some omega-3 fatty acids and make the volume of your brain larger.  It’s like pumping up a low tire with more air.   

And the reason frying won’t work?  That’s easy.  Frying is generally higher temperature than baking or broiling.  Omega-3 fats have many “cis” bonds that are inherently delicate and unstable.  The extra heat of frying will provide the energy for them to transform into “trans” bonds, changing their chemical nature and beneficial qualities.  Just like olive oil can’t be used to fry food because it becomes a trans fat, so too does fish oil.  The “cis” chemical bonds in fish oils are so delicate that we need to keep it in the fridge in a dark bottle when we buy it as a liquid because even light and room temperature will slowly degrade it. 

 This would suggest that cognitive impairment in the elderly is in part nutritional in origin.  Considering that trans fats block several of the pathways that make our own omega-3 fats, and realizing that the American diet still has lots of trans fats in it, our epidemic of cognitive impairment may be partially attributed to the one-two punch of the dietary lack of omega-3 and the dietary excess of trans fats.

  WWW:  What Will Work for Me!  Fish is great nutrition!  Sounds like once a week is good and four times is better.  Or maybe just focus on the fish oil!  And while I focus on that, I’m making an extra effort to eat less trans fats.  I’ve been raising my daily omega-3 fatty acid intake to 3 grams a day by taking a teaspoon of liquid lemon flavored fish oil.  Tastes quite mild and goes down easily.  So much for the Friday night fish fry.  Time to go baked. 

Pop Quiz

1.    Eating fish once a week does what to brains as we age?             Answer: Helps keep the size of the brain robustly large.  

2.    If you have a larger brain, how much does your risk for Alzheimer's decrease?                Answer:   Five fold

3.    What negates the benefit of fish eating?                Answer: Having it fried.

4.     What is a reasonable reason for this benefit?               Answer: fish is a good source of omega fats and your brain has a huge need for omega fats.  It's providing you with the building blocks to make a healthy brain.

 Written by John E Whitcomb, MD   Brookfield Longevity and Healthy Living Clinic 17585 W North Ave, Suite 160  Brookfield WI   262-784-5300