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This Food Can Keep Your Brain Sharp as You Age, Study Says

This fatty acid may have neuroprotective properties for middle-aged adults.
FACT CHECKED BY Samantha Boesch

As you age, you may notice various areas of your body changing, which is a natural part of the aging process. As they do, these parts of your body may require special care or specific attention. This includes your brain and how well it functions as you reach middle age and beyond. If you're eager to keep your brain as sharp as possible for as long as you can, then you may want to consider including a certain kind of food in your diet, according to a new study.

The study, which was conducted by researchers at the University of Texas Health at San Antonio and published recently in Neurology, involved 2,183 participants who were an average of 46 years old and had never suffered from a stroke or been diagnosed with dementia.

The researchers acknowledged the connection between omega-3 fatty acids and better neurological health in older adults, but their objective was to see if there was a connection between omega-3s and the brain health of middle-aged adults as well.

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omega-3 foods - salmon, flax seeds, hemp seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseed oil

Those behind the study found a connection between omega-3 and hippocampal volume, which helps both memory function and learning ability as well as reasoning and logical thinking, both in older and middle-aged adults.

The lead author of the study, Claudia Satizabal, PhD, assistant professor of population health sciences with the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer's and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio, explained via EurekAlert!, "Studies have looked at this association in older populations. The new contribution here is that, even at younger ages, if you have a diet that includes some omega-3 fatty acids, you are already protecting your brain for most of the indicators of brain aging that we see at middle age."

"These findings corroborate with a large body of existing evidence regarding omega-3's positive and protective effects on brain health across the lifespan," Isa Kujawski, MPH, RDN a functional registered dietitian, author, and the founder of Mea Nutrition, tells Eat This, Not That! "As a dietitian focusing on mental health, I am a strong advocate for omega-3 consumption for brain health, balanced mood, and slowing the process of cognitive decline."

Kujawski also notes that "Omega-3s are an integral component of cell membranes, meaning they play an important role in cell signaling and communication, since neurotransmitter receptors are located on the membrane of the cell." Because of that, "Individuals that do not get enough omega-3s are more prone to poor memory, mood swings, and depression," and beyond that, "Omega-3s also increase the activity of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps stimulate cell connections and growth in the brain," says Kujawski.

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How To Incorporate More Omega-3s in Your Diet

As for how to ensure that you're getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, Kujawski says that "One of the best sources of omega-3s are low-mercury fatty cold water fish like mackerel, sardines, herring, or wild-caught salmon." You could also opt for oysters, anchovies, and even caviar.

If you're not into seafood, then Kujawski suggests "Nuts and seeds like flax, chia, hemp, and walnuts, or their corresponding oils." However, it's important to remember that "these oils should be refrigerated and consumed cold, since omega-3s are delicate and prone to rancidity in improper conditions."

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée
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