If you’ve read anything about alternative medicine in the last 20 years, you’ve probably heard the main reason to eat fish is the omega 3 fatty acids, found at especially high levels in oily fish like salmon and herring. Omega 3 oils benefit the heart and circulation, the brain, and probably other body parts we don’t know about yet.
And no doubt you’ve heard if you don’t like fish you can meet your needs by taking fish oil supplements instead.
Experts may soon have to reconsider those recommendations. Recent research suggests fish oil is not enough. If you don’t eat the whole fish, you’re leaving important brain nutrients on the table.
Don’t get me wrong, fish oil is still essential, you just want the rest of the fish, too. Here’s the full story. . .
Fish is a rich source of calcium and phosphorus, and supplies excellent amounts of many other minerals as well as vitamins D, B2 and protein.
However, a couple of studies suggest there’s something else in fish that can help you maintain a healthy brain. It contains a special protein that may prevent Parkinson’s and other neurological diseases – a protein that’s missing from fish oil supplements.
Lowers Alzheimer’s Risk by 60%
Fifteen years ago, an important study was published in the Archives of Neurology.
815 dementia-free Chicago residents aged 65 to 94 completed a dietary questionnaire and were followed up nearly four years later. During that period 131 of them developed Alzheimer’s.
Even taking into account many other factors that could influence the results, the researchers found that participants who consumed fish one or more times a week had a 60% reduced risk of Alzheimer’s compared to those who never or hardly ever ate fish. Omega 3 alone could not account for this large effect.
The editors of the journal wondered if it was time to urge people to eat fish to lower Alzheimer’s risk.
They pointed to numerous mechanisms by which fish could protect our cognitive abilities, and gave examples of populations like the high-fish-consuming Cree natives of northeastern Canada, who have low rates of Alzheimer’s, compared to low-consuming Israeli Arabs who have a high incidence of the disease.
Just a few months ago, Swedish scientists provided us with further important evidence.
‘Parkinson’s Protein’ Rendered Harmless
The research team from the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering at Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg, discovered that a protein called parvalbumin, common to many fish species, prevents the formation of protein structures linked to Parkinson’s disease.
One hallmark of Parkinson’s is a protein called alpha-synuclein, sometimes referred to as the ‘Parkinson’s protein.’
Parvalbumin binds to this protein and uses it for its own purposes. By doing so it prevents the formation of Parkinson’s-associated amyloid structures.
Lead author of the study, Professor Pernilia Wittung-Stafshede, said, “Parvalbumin collects up the ‘Parkinson’s protein’ and actually prevents it from aggregating, simply by aggregating itself first.”
The biologists believe eating fish could be a simple way to prevent Parkinson’s.
Because other neurodegenerative diseases also involve amyloid structures, the research team believe fish may have a role to play in ALS, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s. Further research is needed to establish whether this is the case.
High levels of parvalbumin can be found in cod, carp, herring and redfish, including sockeye salmon and red snapper.
One of the Chalmer University scientists, Nathalie Scheers, also advises on the best time to eat these fish:
“Fish is normally a lot more nutritious at the end of the summer, because of increased metabolic activity. Levels of parvalbumin are much higher in fish after they have had a lot of sun, so it could be worthwhile increasing consumption during autumn.”
You can count me as someone who’s not a big fish eater. But based on these new findings I’m going to try to have fish at least once a week, while continuing to take fish oil daily.