One fish, two fish
Written by The Flint Journal   
Monday, 27 December 2004 10:15

As a nurse, Ruth Smith realizes that eating fish regularly has health benefits, especially for the heart.

"I've always known what's good for the heart is good for the brain," said Smith of Clio. She's regional director of the Greater Michigan Chapter, East Central Region of the Alzheimer's Association.

New studies confirm her hunch.

Fish ?often dubbed "brain food" ?may protect people from Alzheimer's disease, according to separate studies by researchers at Tufts University in Boston, Rush-Presbyterian, St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago and the University of California-Los Angeles.

"Fish is the most concentrated natural source of a particular omega-3 called docosahexaeonic acid or DHA," USA reported recently. "That fat is known to play a crucial role in learning and memory."

Fish that contain omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, sardines, herring, lake trout, tuna and mackerel.

The purported health benefits of fish have helped push seafood consumption to record levels, going from 15.6 pounds consumed per person in 2002 to more than 16.3 pounds consumed in 2003, the newspaper said.

This also is true locally. Mike Donlan of Donlan Fish & Seafoods in Flint noted "our business increases every year." He said he tries to eat fish at least twice a week, which is exactly the amountthe American Heart Association recommends. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease risk of arrhythmias, decrease triglyceride levels and growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque and lower blood pressure, the association says.

The Alzheimer's studies so far are suggestive, not conclusive, pointed out Barbara Mercer, director of geriatric education at the McLaren Family Practice Residency.

At Rush-Presbyterian, St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, researchers conducted a study of 815 nursing home residents, ages 65 and older, and found that those who ate fish once a week had a 60 percent reduced risk of developing Alzheimer's over four years.

Researcher Martha Clare Morris, writing in The Archives of Neurology journal, credited polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish, nuts and oily dressings for the protective effect. She said the fatty acids also are found in the membranes of brain cells and may protect them from the ravages of Alzheimer's.

In an accompanying editorial, Robert Friedland of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, said a healthy diet containing fish could help ward off a host of ailments, not just Alzheimer's, though he warned of toxins such as mercury tainting some fish.

"A high antioxidant/low-saturated fat diet pattern with a greater amount of fish, chicken, fruits and vegetables and less red meat and dairy products is likely to lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease, as well as that for heart disease and stroke," Friedland wrote.

Mercer said, "There's no question that the fatty acids such as the ones found in cold-water fish are active at the point of the brain where two nerve cells communicate (synapse). They're part of the process of healthy transmission of nerve signals.

"These fatty acids are vital in the maintenance of normal brain function," she said. "The research in the mice models has shown that mice that have their diets limited in fatty acids actually have a decline in their brain function.

"That's why there's a suspicion that if we maintain those levels in the human, it would translate to probably helping maintain normal brain function."

Researchers at the Framingham Dementia Study found that people with the highest blood levels of DHA cut their risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer's, by half, USA Today reported. The people in this study ate two to three fish meals a week.

UCLA researchers studied mice with mutations that cause an Alzheimer's-like disease. While one group ate a diet without much DHA, another consumed food enriched with it.

Five months into the research, the team gave the mice a memory challenge. The ones that got the DHA-enriched food passed the test most of the time; the others failed.

Smith said the Alzheimer's Association has developed a program of workshops called "Maintain Your Brain," which will be offered in the Flint area beginning early next year.

The workshop targets the baby boomer generation, she said. "We've identified them as a huge population that in the next 10 to15 years could develop the disease."

Nearly 47 percent of people 85 and older in this country are diagnosed with Alzheimer's, she noted. An estimated 4.5 million Americans have the disease, the association reports.

In the workshops, participants are offered tips on how to maintain their memory, including doing crossword and jigsaw puzzles and playing games.

"We have a support group for those individuals diagnosed in the early stages of the disease," Smith noted. "We encourage them to exercise, lower their cholesterol, watch fatty-food content and eat more fish.

"Even though they've been diagnosed with Alzheimer's, it still does help maintain the memory longer," Smith added.

Most families dealing with Alzheimer's patients are willing to "try unproven things because they don't have anything to lose," Mercer said.

"The bottom line is there is no magic bullet," she added. "You have to live a general healthy lifestyle, which includes limited alcohol, no cigarettes, moderate exercise and moderate fat intake to prevent the things we know are most likely to kill us."

Information from Reuters is included in this report.

 
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