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Do you eat fish?

Is that because you like it, or you are a fisherman?

Or do you eat it because of the high levels of omega-3 it contains and you know it’s good for you?

If you ticked “yes” to all of those questions, then you are well on the way to maintaining your health, especially your brain health.

Fish or fish oil is deservedly receiving a lot of attention because the research has shown time and time again how fish oil (from cold water, carnivorous fish) is beneficial to brain health and function. Governments are even discussing whether to make fish oil fortification mandatory for our school kids because young brains benefit so much in relation to learning and memory.

There was a time, not so long ago, that mothers would diligently dose their offspring with large spoons of cod-liver oil. I can still remember the taste even now!

At least fish oil today is far more palatable and available to take in a variety of different ways, including simply eating the fish.

Which is all fine and dandy until you look at what a large proportion of our population are really eating. We may like to kid ourselves we are doing so well because we know about fish oil and omega-3 and feel very virtuous f we are consuming it in in our diet.

But what about the rest of society, who are apparently hopelessly in love with our fast food and think it is normal to eat takeaway every day and the only vegetables they ever set eye on are within the highly processed food items sitting in the freezer?

Consuming too much fat, especially the wrong fats along with too much salt and sugar is bad not only for your body, it’s really bad for your brain.

Your brain is predominantly fat, and requires omega-3s to provide the correct building blocks to produce myelin the essential overcoat used by nerves to speed the electrical transmission of impulses and as part of the membrane surrounding every neuron in your brain. This membrane acts as a filter determining which substances are allowed in pass across it. Insufficient omega-3 or too much of the wrong fats especially trans-fats leads to substitution of these into the membrane which results in basically changing the fundamental integrity and architecture of our brain cells.

Poor diet has been linked to the increasing levels of obesity and type-two diabetes, but is only part of the story of course.

The benefits of following a Mediterranean diet with high fish intake four times a week has been shown to boost memory and learning and protect the brain from neuro-degeneration – so how can we do something to assist those who either don’t like fish, are not interested in healthy eating which they see as  “boring” or they simply don’t like and are addicted to burgers, pizzas and other high fat foods?

Research from the University of Liverpool has revealed that fish oil could potentially minimise the effects that junk food has on the brain. It’s not as good as seeing a change in diet, but at least it is a way to start to minimise the damage to brain health and function.

The researchers undertook a meat analysis of 185 research papers and have concluded that fish oil can play a vital role in stalling the effect that refined sugar and saturated fat has on preventing the brain from knowing when we have eaten enough. Reaching that stage of satiety is crucial as a signal to tell us we are now full and can stop eating.

Eating leads our body to produce certain hormones including that are normally protective to brain cells and stimulate their growth. However those eating high fat diets suppress this effect as a result of producing higher levels of inflammatory molecules and triglycerides that are produced.

Fish oil appears to help reverse this effect.

Maybe it is a case of you can have your pizza and your fish oil too.


Yon, M.A., Mauger, S.L. and Pickavance, L.C. (2013) Relationships between dietary macronutrients and adult neurogenesis in the regulation of energy metabolism British Journal of Nutrition, 109, 1573–158


Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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