Could eating fish actually make you smarter? (and why eating fish is important in pregnancy)
Who else has heard the phase “fish is brain food”?! Or what about “you are what you eat”. Whether you believed this to be true or not, new research may support these ideas.
One interesting study found that aging humans who consumed higher levels omega-3s had increased gray matter brain volume and that most new tissue development was observed in the part of the brain associated with happiness.
Similar findings appeared in the journal Lancet. In a very large human study, scientists analyzed the diets of 12,000 pregnant women. The study found that children of those mothers who consumed the least omega-3 were 48% more likely to score in the lowest quartile on IQ tests. Other studies of fish oil consumption in pregnancy include possible benefit in visual development and may help to reduce the risk of allergies.
Another study revealed when male teenagers ate fish more than once a week their combined intelligence scores were on average 12 per cent higher than those who ate fish less than once a week!!
But what about the mercury?
Many individuals have been concerned that a diet high in fish may increase exposure to heavy metals, such as mercury. There is concern that this exposure could actually lower IQ levels, especially in utero (pregnancy). Scientists recently conducted A Quantitative Assessment on Fetal Neurodevelopment from Eating Commercial Fish, measuring IQ and Early Age Verbal Development. The analysis suggests that pregnant women consuming two seafood meals (8-12 oz) per week could provide their child with an additional 3.3 IQ points by age 9!! To assess the net effects of eating commercial fish during pregnancy, researchers compared the consumption of select fish species necessary to achieve IQ benefits with the amount necessary to have adverse developmental effects due to mercury exposure. The study revealed that the number of servings necessary to reach mercury exposure to have an adverse effect was at least twice that the amount estimated to achieve peak developmental benefit. In other words, the benefit of fish consumption outweighs the risk of mercury exposure.
It is still advisable to choose fish that are typically lower in mercury content. These fish include: sardines, anchovies, pacific wild caught salmon, scallops, pickerel, trout and some species of mackerel.
If you are not too partial to fish, or are allergic, chia seeds are another great source of omega 3 fatty acids.
Many people find it difficult to fit in multiple servings of fish or seafood a week. This is why I, and many of my patients supplement with a high quality fish oil supplement. When choosing a fish oil supplement you want to ensure that:
1. The oil has been 3rd party tested for heavy metals and contaminants
2. The oil has been extracted from small, cold water fish such as anchovies and sardines (better for the environment, low in toxins and also high in good fats). Cod liver oil can also be an option as the source of the omega 3 fatty acids
3. Triglyceride form is best. Some fish oil companies modify the fish oil so it is no longer in triglyceride form making it LESS bio-available. If the fish oil is still in it's triglyceride state, the company should list this somewhere on the bottle.
Do you take fish oils? Have you noticed a benefit since implementing them into your diet? Comment below, I would love to hear from you!