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Wednesday April 1, 2015

RICHARD BÉLIVEAU’S COLUMN Healthy Aging – Eating fish to fight cognitive decline

The grey matter of our brain alone consumes almost 20% of all oxygen used by our body. This powerful metabolism produces high levels of free radicals, which have an adverse effect on our cells. Many studies have shown that this oxidative stress may cause a decline in our brain’s “flexibility” throughout the aging process, which particularly affects our memory and our reasoning skills.   

Similar to other organs, our brain’s health is significantly affected by our lifestyle habits. For example, studies have shown that obesity or type 2 diabetes are both linked to a significantly increased risk of cognitive decline; in contrast, regular physical activity reduces this risk.  

Certain studies have also suggested that the type of protein consumed in one’s diet may have an effect on the risk of cognitive decline. For example, a Mediterranean diet, which includes a lot of fish and legumes rather than red meats, has been linked to improved cognitive functions and a certain protection against Alzheimer’s disease.  

To better understand this process, a team of American researchers have examined the brain of 260 volunteers aged 65 years and up, through magnetic resonance imaging. These researchers have observed that people who consumed fish regularly (once a week) had a higher volume of grey matter in the areas responsible for memory (4% more) and cognition (14% more). Maybe our mothers were right to say that eating fish makes us smarter!  
There is no doubt that our daily habits have an impact (positive or negative) on our risk of suffering from cognitive decline as we age. For this reason, choosing healthy lifestyle habits at the beginning of one’s adult life, which includes not smoking, keeping a normal body weight and exercising regularly, combined with a healthy diet rich in plants and fish-derived protein, may prove to be a powerful ally against cognitive disorders as we advance in age.  

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