Did you know that people who eat a lot of fish are much more likely to have better brain function as they get older? Part of the reason is that fish oil contains a special fat called DHA (docosapentaenoic acid), which is essential for good brain function and is often deficient. And DHA is in fish oil. That's why fish oil is so good for your brain. But new research suggests you still need to eat the fish, not just the oil.
Scientists at the Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden found that eating fish results in better long-term brain health. Specifically, they were looking at how eating fish prevents Parkinson's disease. It's due to a highly abundant protein found in fish called beta-parvalbumin. Here's how it works.
Parkinson's disease is caused by abnormal protein complexes called amyloid deposits. The amyloid deposits are formed through the action of a protein called alpha-synuclein.
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Alpha-synuclein plays such an important role in Parkinson's disease that it is referred to as the "Parkinson's protein." What the Chalmers researchers discovered is that the beta-parvalbumin found in fish binds up alpha-synuclein, and effectively prevents it from forming the amyloid deposits that cause Parkinson's. Pernilla Wittung-Stafshede, Professor and Head of the Chemical Biology division at Chalmers and lead author on the study, explains it this way, "Parvalbumin collects up the 'Parkinson's protein' and actually prevents it from aggregating, simply by aggregating itself first."
The results of the study should not be too surprising. The link between higher consumption of fish and better long-term health for the brain has been long established. "Among those who follow a Mediterranean diet, with more fish, one sees lower rates of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's," says Tony Werner, a PhD student in the Department of Biology and Biological Engineering, and lead researcher on the study. This has also been observed in Japan, where seafood forms a central part of the diet. Eating fish prevents neurological disease. But here's the thing.
Even though fish oil supplements are one of the most important things you can do for brain health, they do not contain the parvalbumin protein. The only way to get that is by eating fish. And it's highly abundant in fish. Herring, cod, carp, redfish, sockeye salmon, and red snapper have particularly high levels of parvalbumin, but it is common in all fish. And Parkinson's and Alzheimer's are not the only diseases that might be prevented by eating fish. Other neurodegenerative diseases, including ALS and Huntington's disease, are also caused by amyloid deposits.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Werner T, Wittung-Stafshede P, et al. Abundant fish protein inhibits a-synuclein amyloid formation. Scientific Reports, 2018; 8 (1)
Eating more fish could prevent Parkinson's disease. Date: April 23, 2018. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180423085420.htm