Vascular disease is the second leading cause of death in the world, so it's important to know how to reduce risk factors early on.

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It's been long said that consuming fish regularly has several health benefits, including lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease and protecting the aging brain from air pollution. A recent study published in the journal Neurology tacks a new benefit onto the list: According to researchers, there's a link between fish consumption and a lowered risk of cerebrovascular disease—or vascular disease—which is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. "Our results are exciting because they show something as simple as eating two or more servings of fish each week is associated with fewer brain lesions and other markers of vascular brain damage, long before obvious signs of dementia appear," says the study's senior author Dr. Cecilia Samieri. 

The researchers' analysis included participants from the Three-City Dijon population-based study. In total, 1,623 people over the age of 65 were included in the analysis. Participants were excluded if they had a dementia diagnosis, history of stroke, or have been hospitalized for cardiovascular disease. The researchers used brain MRI scans to evaluate the extent of cerebrovascular damage. They analyzed the scans for abnormalities in white matter, which consists of nerve fibers that transmit messages between areas of the brain. Researchers also looked at the MRI scans for infarcts (area of dead tissue resulting from poor blood supply), and enlargement of perivascular spaces (fluid-filled spaces surrounding blood vessels). Each of these factors predicts the extent of cognitive decline related to cerebrovascular disease.

salmon filets on platter
Credit: Claudia Totir / Getty Images

A questionnaire was used to assess the participants' weekly intake of various food items, including meat, fish, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Researchers noted a connection between a higher frequency of fish intake and lower vascular disease factor levels. They found that participants who consumed fish two or more items per week had lower levels of cerebrovascular disease markers than those who consumed fish infrequently. This link was most common in participants aged 65 to 69 years old, but fish intake didn't seem to have an impact on individuals older than 75. 

The impact fish has on the brain is notable when you consider that vascular brain disease—a condition that affects the blood vessels and blood circulation in the brain—is the second leading cause of death in the world. Beyond causing physical impairment, health experts believe it can also result in the development of cognitive problems and dementia. In addition to eating fish, it's been reported that maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and quitting smoking can reduce the risk of vascular disease.

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