- The Washington Times - Monday, July 21, 2003

CHICAGO (AP) — Older people who eat fish at least once a week may cut their risk of Alzheimer’s disease by more than half, a study suggests.

The study adds to the evidence that diet may affect a person’s chances of developing the mind-robbing disease that afflicts 4 million Americans.

Researchers found people 65 and older who had fish once a week had a 60 percent lower risk of Alzheimer’s than those who never or rarely ate fish. The meals included tuna sandwiches, fishsticks and shellfish; the amounts eaten were not specified.

“This is very promising, but it’s very early and really we need to have a lot more studies,” said lead researcher Dr. Martha Clare Morris of Chicago’s Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center.

The study involved 815 Chicago residents 65 and older. Follow-up tests nearly four years later found that 131 participants had developed Alzheimer’s. It found an association between eating fish and a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s even after adjusting for age, sex, ethnicity and risk factors, such as heart disease.

The study was published yesterday in the Archives of Neurology. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

If the finding holds up, it could provide a simple way for people to reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s, said Neil Buckholtz, chief of the dementia division at the National Institute on Aging.

Fish is rich in an omega-3 fatty acid that is believed to be important for brain development, Dr. Morris said. Studies have shown that animals fed the fatty acids had better learning abilities and memory.

She said some participants in the latest study also saw a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s from eating omega-3 fatty acids found in vegetables and nuts.

The same researchers found in an earlier study that people who have diets heavy in saturated fats run double the risk of getting Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Rachelle Doody, professor of neurology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, questioned the new study’s conclusion and warned, “Articles like this raise expectations and confuse people.”

Dr. Doody said the researchers “can show an association, but they can’t show cause and effect” between fish and Alzheimer’s.

She said it is not known whether those people who had a reduced risk had eaten fish most of their lives, and whether other dietary habits had an influence. Also, those studied were asked to recall their diets nearly two years later on average, Dr. Doody said.

Bill Thies, vice president of medical and scientific affairs at the Alzheimer’s Association, called the study “an interesting suggestion.”

“It’s not definitive proof. It points in the direction of benefits,” he said.


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