Memory Maximizers: Omega-3 Fatty Acids & Brain Atrophy; Language & Dementia

Here's the latest research to help you keep your brain sharp.

Consume Omega-3 Fatty Acids to Help Prevent Brain Atrophy

Eating plenty of fish or taking fish oil supplements that are rich in the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA may help prevent age-related brain shrinkage in older individuals, according to a new study. Researchers looked at 1,100 postmenopausal female participants in a long-term study. The women’s red-blood-cell levels of omega-3 fatty acids were measured, and eight years later—when the participants were an average age of 78—their brain volume was measured using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The researchers found that participants who started out with the highest levels of fatty acids in their red blood cells had greater total brain volume than participants with the lowest levels. Participants with the highest levels of fatty acid also had about 2.7 percent greater volume in the hippocampus, an important memory region known to shrink as dementia progresses. The beneficial effects of consuming fatty acids may be linked to their anti-inflammatory effects, or to the greater availability of omega-3 fatty acids for incorporation into nerve cell membranes, which require concen-trations of DHA. “The results suggest that the effect on brain volume is the equivalent of delaying the normal loss of brain cells that comes with aging by one to two years,” said a co-author of the study, which was published online Jan. 22, 2014 in Neurology.

Experts recommend eating fish two or three times a week, or taking a supplement of about 1,000 mg a day of fish oil that combines EPA and DHA. Seafood high in beneficial fatty acids, but low in mercury, include:

  •  Crabs • Oysters • Salmon
  •  Flounder • Pollock • Shrimp
  •  Herring

Learning a Second Language May Help Delay Dementia

An excellent way to keep your brain sharp and prevent or slow the slide to dementia may be to learn a second language, a new study suggests. The demands on attention and other brain functions involved in switching between two languages appear to give bilingual individuals extra protection against various types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD), vascular dementia, and frontotemporal dementia. Researchers com-pared the age of dementia onset among a group of 648 dementia patients, 391 of whom spoke two languages. They found that on average, those participants who were bilingual developed dementia 4.5 years later than those who spoke only one language, regardless of other factors, such as occupation, gender, or education. The under-lying mechanism for the bilingual advantage may be the constant need in a bilingual person to selectively activate one language and suppress the other, which may lead to a better development of executive functions and attentional tasks, the authors wrote in a paper published online Nov. 6, 2013 in Neurology. “There are different ways of mental training, but bilingualism combines many of these things, including sound, visual memory, processing function, and social cognition,” a co-author of the study explained. “It’s like working on 10 processes for the price of one.”

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