The impact of diet and lifestyle play a large role in our mental health. The most positive lifestyle changes that we can make to reduce risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and mental health disorders include increasing physical activity, building healthy social relationships, and eating a nutrient-dense diet. Studies are coming to a consensus that the inclusion of seafood in our diets is essential to maintaining mental health.
The brain is largely composed of omega-3 fatty acids. Seafood, particularly fatty fish like sablefish and wild salmon, is rich in vital long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3s), such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which contribute to brain health. These omega-3s also benefit heart health, the immune system, and other aspects of our health.
DHA, the dominant omega-3 in our brains is a critical component of every cell. DHA increases growth for new cells and protection for existing cells, in addition to increasing neuroplasticity, which is the ability of the brain to connect one brain cell to the next. Omega-3 fatty acids also help to decrease inflammation in the brain, which can occur with traumatic brain injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis.
When it comes to prevention of depression and reducing symptoms of depression, diet is a well-known factor. Most commonly associated with reducing symptoms of depression is the Mediterranean diet, which includes fruits and vegetables, legumes and seafood. EPA, in particular, has neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory effects that are suggestive to reduce depression.
Seafood is also an essential component for maintaining mental health for expecting mothers. Research that measures blood levels of omega-3s during pregnancy shows a clear link between low blood levels of omega-3s and increased rates of post-partum depression. Seafood is one of the best sources of Omega-3s; however, pregnant women tend to minimize their intake of seafood during pregnancy because of the mercury content in seafood. Yes, longer living predatory fish such as shark, mackerel and swordfish have higher levels of mercury and should be avoided by pregnant women. However, seafood such as wild salmon, have lower levels of mercury. In addition, wild salmon and sablefish have high levels of Omega-3s and selenium, the latter of which protects against mercury toxicity.
Research that measures blood levels of omega-3s during pregnancy shows a clear link between low blood levels of omega-3s and increased rates of post-partum depression.
A recent white paper was developed using the systematic review process of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans Scientific Advisory Committee. This review uncovered more than 40 scientific studies since 2000 that highlight the tremendous health benefits of consuming seafood by moms that support the brain development of their babies. A big finding from this scientific review showed children gaining an average of 7.7 full IQ points when their moms ate seafood during pregnancy compared to moms that did not eat seafood. In addition, consumption of between 4 and 12 ounces of seafood during childhood had beneficial associations with positive neuro-cognitive outcomes.
Avoiding seafood entirely makes for diets insufficient in omega-3 fatty acids and can place women at risk for developing perinatal depression. Studies recommend that pregnant women should consume 4 ounces of fatty fish per week, twice a week as recommended by the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Especially important is to include seafood that is high in omega-3 fatty acids and low in mercury, such as wild salmon and sablefish.
Still under the radar is just how important vitamin D is to our overall health and how good a source of vitamin D that seafood is. Sablefish and wild salmon are especially good sources of vitamin D3. A 6-ounce sablefish portion has 90% of the daily value for vitamin D, as does coho salmon, while a 6-ounce sockeye salmon portion has 100% of the daily recommended value of vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a role in neuromuscular function and influences cellular growth. It also enhances the secretion of insulin. Low levels of vitamin D are found in people who suffer from depression, anxiety and are associated with cognitive decline. Due to modern lifestyles, people spend less time outdoors in the sun and are deficient in this key ingredient. Dietary vitamin D coming from seafood, one of the best natural dietary sources of vitamin D (particularly wild salmon and sablefish ) can help reduce There is also increasing evidence that vitamin D can help reduce the risk of dying from cancer, particularly the vitamin D3 in seafood.
With all of the health benefits illustrated here, there are great reasons to make seafood a regular part of your diet. Eat seafood and be happy. It’s truly brain food.
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