Fish diet and air pollution

New research has suggested that eating fish may help protect the brain from the effects of air pollution.

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The study was conducted on a group of older women who ate more than one to two servings a week of baked or broiled fish or shellfish. Fried fish is not thought to bring the same benefits.


  • As humans age, the chances of stroke, white matter lesions, and dementia also rise, along with a level of memory impairment. Other factors such as stress may also cause certain areas of the brain to shrink in size.
  • Previous research had found that air pollution can affect the brain. Fish are known to be a source of omega 3 fatty acids. These fatty acids play an important role in the human diet and in human physiology and have several health benefits.
  • The research investigated whether regular consumption of omega 3 fatty acids counteracts the effect of air pollution on the brain. Specifically, they measured omega 3 fatty acid levels and brain volumes of participants and correlated these with their fish intake as well as PM2.5 levels in their home areas.
  • From the diet questionnaire, researchers calculated the average amount of fish each woman consumed each week.
  • This included broiled or baked fish, canned tuna, tuna salad, tuna casserole, and non-fried shellfish, but fried fish was not included because deep-frying is known to damage omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Participants were given blood tests. Researchers measured the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in their red blood cells.
  • The women underwent structural brain MRIs in 2005-2006 to determine the impact of PM2.5 on their brain volumes.
  • Among women who lived in areas with high air pollution and had the lowest levels of omega-3 fatty acids, the researchers found more brain shrinkage than among those with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
  • The researchers have cautioned that their study has only established an association between levels of omega-3 fatty acids and brain volumes. It does not directly prove that eating fish preserves brain volume.
  • A 2019 study reported PM2.5’s effects on the central nervous system which it can reach through a variety of pathways.
  • For instance, PM2.5 can destroy the integrity of the blood-brain barrier and reach the central nervous system. Alternatively, PM2.5 could enter the brain through the olfactory nerve.

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