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Atmospheric pollution is a major health burden and studies have linked it to a number of diseases.

Suffice it to say that, according to a study conducted this year by the European Environmental Agency, 307,000 premature deaths were attributed to chronic exposure to fine particulate matter; 40,400 premature deaths were attributed to chronic nitrogen dioxide exposure; 16,800 premature deaths were attributed to acute ozone exposure. [1]

Recent research from Columbia University, focusing on the damage air pollutants cause to brain health, found that eating more of one food category can reverse the negative effects.

According to findings published in Neurology, adding more grilled or boiled fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids and shellfish to the diet – more than twice a week – can protect the brain from the side effects of pollution. [2]

The researchers came to this conclusion based on the responses of 1,300 women, aged 70 on average, about their diet, physical activity and medical history.

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It should be noted that none of the participants had dementia at the start of the study, and their home addresses were used to determine their average exposure to air pollutants over the three years of the study.

The participants were divided into four groups based on their blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids according to their blood tests, while brain scans showed the health of different areas of the brain, including the white matter – the network of nerve fibers responsible for the connection between neurons and communication between different brain regions – and the hippocampus, which is linked to memory.

The data showed that in areas with high levels of air pollution, women with the lowest intake of omega-3 fatty acids had greater brain shrinkage.

As the study’s lead author, Dr. Ka He, explained, ”the anti-inflammatory property of omega-3 fatty acids and their ability to maintain brain structure during aging is responsible for the relevant results. In addition, they have been shown to be effective in reducing the damage to the brain caused by neurotoxins such as lead and mercury and, it has been shown, in limiting the effects of airborne microparticles.

However, this is not a proof of a causal relationship between fish consumption and brain protection, but an observational study.

The survey has not escaped criticism for omissions and failures.

Katrina Hartog, a dietitian and clinical nutritionist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, did not fail to mention the American Heart Association’s recommendations to eat fish high in omega-3 fatty acids twice a week, faulted the study for incomplete reporting on the quality of blood samples, the types of food sources of omega-3s and, most importantly, the frequency of intake of fish oil supplements, part of many participants’ diets.

In addition, levels of air pollution have decreased in recent years, a factor that is probably more responsible than fish consumption for improving brain health.

Nevertheless, he overheard the suggestion of greater consumption of such fish, suggesting herring, mackerel, salmon and plant foods such as flaxseeds and chia seeds.

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