What You Eat Can Save Your Mind
Fathead is now a good thing to be. The more that researchers look, the more they find that a diet rich in fatty fish reduces the risk of cognitive decline and dementia commonly associated with aging. The same kind of diet has similar benefits against the risk of cardiovascular disease. What saves the blood supply to your heart also seems to save the all-important blood supply to your brain.
The newest evidence comes from a study of over 1,600 people aged 45 to 70 who took a battery of sensitive tests of memory and mental performance and kept tabs on their food consumptions. The risk of cognitive decline was greatest among those who had the lowest dietary intake of unsaturated fatty acids coming from marine sources.
The two primary fatty acids found in fish and seaweed are ECA (eicospentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosapentaenoic acid), collectively known as omega-3 fats. Cognitive tests were normal in 1,450 people and impaired in 163. The more fish people ate, the greater their overall cognitive function and speed of responses.
Compared with those with normal cognitive function, those who shoed impairment were slightly older (59.4 years of age versus 56.2), more likely to be male, to have a history of cardiovascular disease, and to be less well educated. The same study also showed that when people consumed a large amount of cholesterol in their diet, the more they were likely to have impaired memory and flexibility.
Eating saturated fat also increased the risk of impaired memory, slower speed and less flexibility of mental function. It's not clear exactly how omega-3 fats preserve cognitive functions. Fats are key component of nerve cell membranes and the insulating sheath around the nerve-cell fibers that transmit signals in the brain.
It could be omega-3 fats save the brain by preserving blood flow through its tiny blood vessels. Those fats seem to reduce inflammation in blood vessels of the brain. Inflammation has come under increasing scrutiny for its role in leading to atherosclerosis, or the clogging of arteries. It's also possible that the omega-3s preserve mental function by direct effects n nerve cells.
They help maintain the fluidity of nerve cell membranes, important gatekeepers in all brain actions. In addition, by insulating nerve fibers, omega-3s could preserve the channels of transmission of nerve signals from cell to cell. It's likely that omega-3s contribute to mental function through effects on all those processes.
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