Eating omega-3-rich fish in your 40s and 50s can help to protect brain health and thinking, a new study has found.

Researchers studied a group of healthy volunteers with an average age of 46 and found that that those with higher concentrations of omega-3 in their blood had better cognitive function.

Lead author Assistant Professor Claudia Satizabal, from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, said: “Studies have looked at this association in older populations. The new contribution here is that, even at younger ages, if you have a diet that includes some omega-3 fatty acids, you are already protecting your brain for most of the indicators of brain aging that we see at middle age.”

She added: “We saw the worst outcomes in the people who had the lowest consumption of omega-3s. So, that is something interesting. Although the more omega-3 the more benefits for the brain, you just need to eat some to see benefits.”

Researchers studied almost 2,200 volunteers, who were dementia and stroke-free. They examined the link between red blood cell omega-3 fatty acid concentrations and cognitive markers of brain aging.

They also looked at the effect on participants who were more at risk of Alzheimer’s disease due to being carriers of a certain genetic variation.

They found that those with higher levels of omega-3 had larger volumes of a structure in the brain linked to learning and memory. The team also found a link between greater omega-3 levels and better abstract reasoning.

Study co-author Dr Debora Melo van Lent said: “Omega-3 fatty acids such as EPA and DHA are key micronutrients that enhance and protect the brain. Our study is one of the first to observe this effect in a younger population. More studies in this age group are needed.

“It’s complex. We don’t understand everything yet, but we show that, somehow, if you increase your consumption of omega-3s even by a little bit, you are protecting your brain.”

Omega-3 can be found in salmon, cod, tuna, herring or sardines.

Read the full study in the journal Neurology.

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