Consuming foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids on a regular basis may help fight Alzheimer's disease and brain shrinkage due to aging.

A new study published in the medical journal American Academy of Neurology Jan. 22, suggests that high levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood can protect a person's brain from volume loss, which is associated with Alzheimer's and aging.

For the study, researchers at the University of South Dakota tested the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood of 1,111 postmenopausal women. After eight years, the women had MRI scans to measure their brain volume.

The researchers found that the women whose red blood cells have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids had more brain volumes. They also had 2.7 percent more volume in the brain's hippocampus area, which is responsible for learning and memory.

"These higher levels of fatty acids can be achieved through diet and the use of supplements, and the results suggest that the effect on brain volume is the equivalent of delaying the normal loss of brain cells that comes with aging by one to two years, " said study author James V. Pottala, of the University of South Dakota in Sioux Falls.

Omega-3 fatty acids such as docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) can be found in fish, particularly salmon, mackerel, herring, albacore tuna, lake trout and sardines, as well as in walnuts and kiwi fruit.

It also appears that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids does not just benefit the brain. The American Heart Association said that it could benefit the heart as well. The association said that omega-3 fatty acids can decrease the risk of arrhythmia, a condition characterized by irregular heartbeats that can lead to sudden death, reduce triglyceride(fats found in the blood), lower blood pressure and slow plaque growth rate.

Cardiologist Gina Lundberg, a spokeswoman for the heart association and an assistant professor of medicine at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta said she recommends fish supplements to most of her patients who are over 50 years old "not just for the triglyceride lowering benefit and cardiovascular benefits, but for the powerful antioxidant and brain-power benefits."

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