Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health
Eating Baked, Broiled Fish Wards Off Cognitive Decline, Alzheimer’s Disease
Senior citizens nearing danger zone of cognitive problems should eat fish weekly
Dec. 6, 2011 - You can reduce your risk of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) by eating fish
that is baked or broiled every week, according to a study presented last week at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting.
"This is the first study to establish a direct relationship between fish consumption, brain structure and Alzheimer's
risk," said Cyrus Raji, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.
"The results showed that people who consumed baked or broiled fish at least one time per week had better preservation of
gray matter volume on MRI in brain areas at risk for Alzheimer's disease."
Alzheimer's disease is an incurable, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and cognitive skills.
According to the National Institute on Aging, as many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer's disease. In MCI, memory loss is present
but to a lesser extent than in Alzheimer's disease. People with MCI often go on to develop Alzheimer's disease.
For the study, 260 cognitively normal individuals were selected from the Cardiovascular Health Study. Information on fish
consumption was gathered using the National Cancer Institute Food Frequency Questionnaire.
There were 163 patients who consumed fish on a weekly basis, and the majority ate fish one to four times per week. Each
patient underwent 3-D volumetric MRI of the brain.
At A Glance
Regularly eating baked or broiled fish improves brain health and may
help protect against Alzheimer's disease.
> Eating fried fish was not shown to protect against cognitive decline.
As many as 5.1 million Americans may have Alzheimer's disease.
Findings Must be Viewed as ‘An Association’
The team cautioned that while eating baked and broiled fish appears to
exert some cognitive benefit, other lifestyle and socioeconomic factors may play a role. For now, the connection must be viewed as an
association, rather than a cause-and-effect.
Dr. Richard Lipton, vice chair of neurology at the Albert Einstein
College of Medicine in New York City, reiterated the point.
"One has to wonder if there are other factors associated with fish
consumption that they didn't measure that might be protective," he said. "Like maybe people who eat fish exercise more, or eat less
total calories. Or they could be eating other components of a Mediterranean Diet, such as fruits and vegetables."
Lipton added that "this group of researchers is really, really good,"
and called the study results "a very interesting finding, and absolutely worthy of further exploration."
More by HealthDay at MedlinePlus
Voxel-based morphometry, a brain mapping technique that measures gray matter volume, was used to model the relationship
between weekly fish consumption at baseline and brain structure 10 years later. The data were then analyzed to determine if gray matter volume
preservation associated with fish consumption reduced risk for Alzheimer's disease.
The study controlled for age, gender, education, race, obesity, physical activity, and the presence or absence of
apolipoprotein E4 (ApoE4), a gene that increases the risk of developing Alzheimer's.
Gray matter volume is crucial to brain health. When it remains higher, brain health is being maintained. Decreases in
gray matter volume indicate that brain cells are shrinking.
The findings showed that consumption of baked or broiled fish on a weekly basis was positively associated with gray
matter volumes in several areas of the brain. Greater hippocampal, posterior cingulate and orbital frontal cortex volumes in relation to fish
consumption reduced the risk for five-year decline to MCI or Alzheimer's by almost five-fold.
"Consuming baked or broiled fish promotes stronger neurons in the brain's gray matter by making them larger and
healthier," Dr. Raji said. "This simple lifestyle choice increases the brain's resistance to Alzheimer's disease and lowers risk for the
The results also demonstrated increased levels of cognition in people who ate baked or broiled fish.
"Working memory, which allows people to focus on tasks and commit information to short-term memory, is one of the most
important cognitive domains," Dr. Raji said.
"Working memory is destroyed by Alzheimer's disease. We found higher levels of working memory in people who ate baked or
broiled fish on a weekly basis, even when accounting for other factors, such as education, age, gender and physical activity."
Eating fried fish, on the other hand, was not shown to increase brain volume or protect against cognitive decline.
Coauthors are Kirk Erickson, Ph.D., Oscar Lopez, M.D., Lewis Kuller, M.D., H. Michael Gach, Ph.D., Paul Thompson, Ph.D.,
Mario Riverol, M.D., Ph.D., and James Becker, Ph.D.
RSNA is an association of more than 48,000 radiologists, radiation oncologists, medical physicists and related scientists
committed to excellence in patient care through education and research. The Society is based in Oak Brook, Ill. (RSNA.org)
>> For patient information on MRI, visit
>> Dr. Cyrus Raji shares the findings of the study.
Video clip (1,116 KB)
Original report by RSNA, Nov. 30, 2011
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