Forgetting where you put your keys even more often than usual? There are plenty of lifestyle changes you can make to stay sharp, including exercising more, sticking to a healthy sleep schedule, and keeping your mind active. The foods that you eat can play a vital role too. A new study suggests that a diet rich in highly processed foods may lead to memory loss, but adding docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplements could fight these harmful effects.
In the study, published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, researchers from Ohio State University examined how feeding rats a highly processed diet for four weeks impacted their memory. More specifically, they found that this type of diet contributed to the rats' memory loss. However, when they supplemented their diets with DHA—an omega-3 fatty acid commonly found in fish and other seafood—the rats did not show any memory impairments.
"Since DHA has strong anti-inflammatory effects, it is likely that this anti-inflammatory effect on the brain protected their memory function," senior study author Ruth M. Barrientos, Ph.D., told Eat This, Not That! in an interview.
Previous research on humans has found that DHAs can have a positive impact on memory. One 2013 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, for instance, found that DHA supplements had a positive impact on the memory of healthy, young adults.
"Inflammation definitely impacts brain health and can accelerate cognitive decline so it makes sense that taking steps to decrease inflammation helps to protect the brain," Michelle Babb, MS, RD, author of Mastering Mindful Eating, told Eat This, Not That! "Omega-3 supplementation and/or including more omega-3s in the diet may help decrease inflammation that is associated with brain aging."
Of course, the supplement is far from a cure-all. While DHA helped combat memory loss in rats in this study, the nutrient did not protect against the other health consequences of eating a highly processed diet.
"I worry that people will think they can eat as many unhealthy foods as they like as long as they supplement with DHA," said Barrientos. "It's important to note that DHA supplementation did not prevent [other issues]… so the message should be to reduce consumption of processed foods and increase consumption of whole foods."
You can take DHA supplements, but you can also up your omega-3 fatty acid intake by being deliberate about the foods you incorporate into your diet. To help you get started, check out these 26 Best Omega-3 Superfoods For Your Mind And Body.
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