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Fish Oil Fights Air Pollution

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Fish oil’s numerous benefits can improve the health of all ages and all genders, but women may be especially thankful for the extra protection against environmental toxins and pollution that fish oil can provide.

               Under the constant barrage of environmental air pollution, brains can become overburdened and harmful neurotoxins can accumulate.  These neurotoxins are plentiful in the brains of women (and men) who live in areas of high air pollution.  Researchers from the American Academy of Neurology focused on how the omega-3 fatty acids from fish can provide neuroprotective benefits to women’s brains.

               The study’s 1,315 healthy participants, aged 65-80 years old, underwent brain scans at the start of the study.  They also completed questionnaires which asked for a detailed history of the frequency of consumption of fish (any type of fish from fresh fish to canned tuna, prepared in any number of ways except for deep fried because omega-3 levels in fried fish are almost negligible due to the heat’s effects on omega-3’s). 

Based on their addresses, the amount of the air pollution in their neighborhood was measured based on PM2.5 exposure (or particulate matter exposure).  The level of PM2.5 was then averaged over a 3-year period.

               The researchers measured the amount of omega-3 fatty acids that were contained in their red blood cells.  The omega-3 fatty acids (or LCn3PUFA:  long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids) directly correlated with a larger volume of white matter in their brains.  Even the hippocampus regions of their brains contained more volume than the women who did not have the same amount of omega-3 in their red blood cells.

               Higher levels of omega-3 fatty acid in the red blood cells mitigated the damage from the PM2.5 air pollution.  The women who had lower levels of omega-3 and were exposed to high levels of particulate matter pollution experienced volume loss of their white matter which can be likened to shrinkage.

               To achieve this neuroprotective and anti-shrinkage effect against air pollution, women in the study ate 1-2+ servings of baked or broiled fish/shellfish weekly.  Anecdotally, fish consumption has long been suggested to decrease levels of neuroinflammation within the brain and for cardiovascular health, and now we have one more way to fight against air pollution.

               What if you don’t eat fish or are vegan or vegetarian?  Fish oil capsules can still provide the same benefits as consuming the fish—but if you’re looking for a purely non-animal based source for omega-3, try flaxseed oil, canola oil, chia seeds, hemp seeds/oil, and walnuts.


Erythrocyte omega-3 index, ambient fine particle exposure and brain aging. Cheng Chen, Pengcheng Xun, Joel D. Kaufman, Kathleen M. Hayden, Mark A. Espeland, Eric A. Whitsel, Marc L. Serre, William Vizuete, Tonya Orchard, William S. Harris, Xinhui Wang, Helena C. Chui, Jiu-Chiuan Chen, Ka HeNeurology Jul 2020, 10.1212/WNL.0000000000010074; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000010074


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