McCleary Scientific Newsletter

A Diet Rich in Healthy Omega-3 Fats

October 16, 2012 Brain-Body Insights Newsletter

A diet rich in fish, flax seeds and nuts, also known as the Mediterranean diet, has long been credited as being heart healthy. More recently, it has also been confirmed as being brain healthy. The two primary types of healthy omega-3 fats are called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) anddocosahexaenoic acid (DHA). ALA is found in flax seeds, flax oil, walnuts, walnut oil and pumpkin seeds. DHA is found in salmon, sardines, tuna and other fatty fish. Both support healthy brain and heart function.

A recently published study in the journal Neurology, led by Nikolaos Scarmeas, MD, of New York’s Columbia University Medical Center, revealed that even a small daily dietary increase in omega-3 fatty acids is associated with lower beta-amyloid levels in the brain. Beta-amyloid is the main component of amyloid plaques, deposits found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, even before memory loss occurs.

The study was performed on older people with no evidence of age-related memory loss. Evidence was gathered through questionnaires about diet (that requested information about the consumption of vitamins B12, C, D and E, beta-carotene and various fatty acids such as omega-3 fats) and blood tests were performed to assess how dietary consumption of these various nutrients was associated with their blood levels.

The researchers identified a link between low omega-3 fat consumption and dementia. This link was supported by corresponding alterations in beta-amyloid levels and brain size. Dr. Scarmeas found that people who consumed diets with low levels of omega-3 fats experienced more brain shrinkage. He thinks this is a sign of accelerated brain aging in that group.

These findings support the contention that diet may play a key role in memory loss and provide the opportunity for each of us to take control of our brain health. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week and increasing our consumption of plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids to improve heart health, and now, to provide an added bonus, brain health!

Health Tip

Spaghetti Squash – a Great Pasta Substitute!

If you’re looking for a super way to enjoy the comfort of pasta without the guilt, spaghetti squash is the answer. It is a large yellow squash that, when cooked, has spaghetti-like texture. Unlike traditional flour-based pasta, it is low in carbohydrates, has a low glycemic index and is high in nutrients, including vitamin C, Vitamin B6, potassium and manganese. Embrace the cool weather with an autumn-themed dish utilizing a spaghetti squash base.