Omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood improve brain function

Citing new evidence that the omega-3 fatty acids found in seafood improve brain function in middle aged people and actually lower the risk of mental impairment as people age, the U.S. Tuna Foundation (USTF) today reminded the public that canned tuna is not only good for your heart but is a tasty and affordable "brain food" for people of all ages.

The latest research comes from researchers with Utrecht and Maastricht Universities in the Netherlands and was recently published in the journal Neurology. Tracking more than 1600 Dutch men and women aged 45 to 70 over a six-year period, the researchers found those who ate fish regularly scored higher on a battery of tests for memory, psychomotor speed, cognitive flexibility, and overall cognition. Moreover, the study concluded that the specific factors contributing to better brain function were fatty fish and the consumption of two essential omega-3 fatty acids found in canned tuna, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid).

Of the top 10 most commonly consumed fish in this country, salmon and canned albacore tuna have the highest levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Nutritional Database.

"This study offers encouragement to all Americans who consume fatty fish and especially those who worry about Alzheimer's disease," said Joyce Nettleton, D.Sc., R.D., author of Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Health and a member of the Tuna Nutrition Council, which advises USTF on nutrition and public health matters. "We know that people with mild cognitive impairment are likely to progress to dementia or Alzheimer's disease, so learning that a simple step like adding canned tuna and other types of fish to the diet is important news, especially as the number of older Americans increases dramatically."

Along with improving brain function in older people, USTF pointed to extensive research concluding that the omega-3 fatty acids in canned tuna and other types of seafood are essential for the developing brain during pregnancy and the first two years of a baby's life. According to numerous studies, DHA comprises approximately 40 percent of the polyunsaturated fatty acid content in the cell membranes in the brain and is transferred from mother to the fetus at a high rate during the last trimester of pregnancy. Along with DHA, the developing fetus uses EPA for the growth of the brain and the developing nervous system.

"It is important for pregnant and nursing women to understand that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are essential during pregnancy and lactation," Dr. Nettleton said.

"Women need to know that eating canned tuna and many other types of fish during pregnancy provides the omega-3 fatty acids that are necessary for the brain of the fetus to develop and thrive."

It is because of these important benefits that health leaders around the world are urging pregnant and nursing women to include fish, such as canned tuna, in their diets while heeding some specific advice about how to minimize the small risk to the unborn child from mercury in certain fish. Most recently, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) in the United Kingdom (UK) revised its advice about the amount of canned tuna that pregnant and nursing women can safely eat, doubling the maximum amount to four cans or two tuna steaks a week.

Issued on March 24, the updated advice from the UK food safety agency is based on new guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) regarding the levels of mercury in fish. Citing the health benefits of fish consumption for pregnant women and their developing fetuses, this UK advisory sets maximum recommended consumption levels at nearly twice the amount recommended in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in their recent advisory.

More information about canned tuna and its health benefits is available at the USTF Web site,

Established in 1976, the US Tuna Foundation (USTF) is the national organization representing the canned tuna processors and the fishermen who supply them and addresses issues ranging from fishing access arrangements to federal and state regulations and domestic marketing.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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