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According to new research published in the journal Neurology, omega-3s can help protect your brain from the toxic effects of air pollution.
Omega-3s are an important part of a healthy diet, and the nutrient can be found in fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, oysters, sardines, and anchovies.
Omega-3s, a type of healthy fat, are an essential part of a cyclist’s diet. They’re known to help fight inflammation in your body and boost your heart, lung, and joint health. Now, new research points to another win for the nutrient: reducing the effects of air pollution on your brain.
In the study, published in the journal Neurology, researchers analyzed the data of more than 1,300 women (ages 65 to 80 years old) who were enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study from 1996 to ’99, and who underwent brain MRIs in 2005 to ’06. The researchers also looked at omega-3 and fish consumption of the participants and how much air pollution they were exposed to.
Their findings? Omega-3s from fish consumption may help preserve the brain’s volume of white matter, which is responsible for sending signals throughout your brain, and the size of the hippocampus, which is vital for memory formation, as women age. Omega-3s may also protect against the toxic effects that air pollution can have on your brain.
Here’s why that’s important: While brain volume loss occurs naturally with aging, a fast loss may cause cognitive impairment and disability, according to study author Cheng Chen, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University’s Irving Medical Center.
“A slower rate of brain volume loss may prevent against the development or progression of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.,” Chen told Runner’s World.
When it comes to the effect of air pollution on your brain go, Chen said particles—such as dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and drops of liquid—enter through your respiratory tract and go directly into your blood circulation system.
“With the blood flow to the body, they can cause damage to other systems, including the brain,” Chen said. “In our previous studies in the Women’s Health Initiative Memory Study, we found older women living in locations with higher levels of fine particles in the outdoor air had smaller brain volumes.”
While it’s still not 100 percent clear on how these particles cause damage to the brain, there are several possible theories, Chen said. One is that the particles contain neurotoxic metals, which can damage neurons once they reach the brain, resulting in inflammation—which can lead to brain atrophy.
Another theory, according to Chen, is that your immune system could react to particles in your lungs or bloodstream, which triggers inflammation that affects the brain.
Lastly, there could be a connection between your gut and your brain. “Researchers have recognized strong connections between the gut microbiome and the brain, and studies show that delivering fine particles to the gut can cause systemic inflammation that may result in brain damage,” Chen said.
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Eating fish high in omega-3s—such as salmon, mackerel, herring, oysters, sardines, and anchovies—can help fight inflammation in your brain and repair damage to its white matter, according to Chen.
While this study was done in older women, Chen believes the results would most likely be similar in other populations of different ages and sexes.
“Environmental pollution is inevitable in some areas,” Chen said. “These findings provide helpful insight regarding how a healthy lifestyle, like healthy diet, could reduce the adverse effects of air pollution on cognitive decline and neurodegeneration.”
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