Fish helps to stave off dementia, study says

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Fish is good for the brain but meat offers no protection against mental degeneration, scientists report today.

Fish is good for the brain but meat offers no protection against mental degeneration, scientists report today.

Elderly people who ate fish or shellfish at least once a week were significantly less likely to suffer dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, than those who did not, researchers have found. But eating meat neither increased nor decreased the risk.

Fat has long been suspected to play a role in dementia by causing thickening of the blood vessels in the brain or clots that block the tiny capillaries, damaging brain cells. Fish, which is high in polyunsaturated fats, has been thought to have a protective effect on the brain similar to that on the heart.

In a study of 1,674 elderly people living in France, researchers from the University Victor Segalen in Bordeaux found the incidence of dementia was a third lower among those who ate fish every week.

The study, reported in the British Medical Journal, found, however, that those who ate fish were better educated and when this was taken into account the link with dementia was slightly reduced. Dementia tends to be more common in people of lower IQ who use their brains less.

The authors believe fatty acids in fish could reduce brain inflammation and may have a role in brain development and nerve cell regeneration. They say: "Healthy dietary habits acquired in infancy could be associated with achievement of higher education. Highly educated people might also adhere more closely to dietary recommendations on fish consumption."

The finding echoes US research suggesting that a diet low in fat and high in anti-oxidants found in green vegetables, fruit and wholegrains, as well as fish, reduces the risk of Alzheimer's disease.

A spokesman for the Alzheimer's Disease Society said: "It now appears that what is good for your heart may be good for your head."

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