Warning: Air pollution shrinks your brain

These days, we all have one major health concern that’s top of mind: the big C. (And this time, I don’t mean cancer.) But even in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, we still need to focus on our overall health—and that includes our brain health.

So today, I want to talk about one of my favorite oldie-but-goodie nutritional recommendations: omega-3 fatty acids. Because new research shows just how essential these fatty acids are for your brain…

Good fats fight brain shrinkage

This recent study showed that older women who eat one or two weekly servings of baked or broiled fish or shellfish get enough omega-3 fatty acids in their diet to protect their brains from detrimental effects of air pollution exposure.

More specifically, these researchers found that, among populations living in high-pollution areas, the women with the lowest blood levels of omega-3s suffered more brain shrinkage than women with the highest blood levels of omega-3s.

This study featured just over 1,300 women. And the researchers measured their omega-3 fatty acid levels before dividing them into four different groups, from highest levels to lowest levels, accordingly.

Then, researchers calculated each subject’s average air pollution exposure over the course of three years, according to their home address.

Finally, the women all had MRIs to assess the amount of white matter in the brain. (Your white matter is comprised of nerve fibers and is responsible for relaying signals throughout the central nervous system—including your hippocampus, which plays a key role in memory.)

Ultimately, women with the very highest levels of omega-3 had more white matter compared to the rest of the women. They also had greater hippocampal volumes—and needless to say, this is one case where more is always better.

These findings are fascinating to me on a couple levels.

First, if you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably wondered a lot about how pollution affects brain health. And the answer seems to be this: quite significantly. In fact, previous research has already suggested it as a possible factor behind the growing dementia epidemic.

Still, until recently, I had never fully considered the role that air pollution might play in this plight. So once again, I’m grateful to you for reading this e-letter, which allows me to do this research and keep us all current on the latest findings.

And this new research, in particular, seems to make a lot of sense. After all, we already know that omega-3 fatty acids can fight inflammation and preserve the structure of aging brains.

These fats have also been found to reduce brain damage caused by lead and mercury—both potent neurotoxins. And at the end of the day, the fine particulate matter that characterizes air pollution is really just another neurotoxin. So if something as simple as eating more fish or seafood helps promote brain health? Well, I’m all in…

How to pick the freshest, cleanest catch

Obviously, eating fresh fish and seafood has always been a recommendation of mine, as it’s a key part of my Mediterranean-style, A-List Diet. (This is a diet full of fresh, wholesome foods from organic vegetables, some fruits, lean protein, moderate amounts of alcohol, and healthy fats.) And of course, eating more fish is a great way to bump up your omega-3 levels. But finding the freshest, cleanest catch is crucial.

So, start by avoiding larger fish like bluefish, king mackerel, grouper, sea bass, shark, swordfish, marlin, orange roughy, and tilefish, which contain high levels of mercury. Albacore, yellowfin, and ahi tuna can also be loaded with mercury. (Canned, light chunk tuna is considered OK if you limit your consumption to six or fewer servings per month.)

Seafood with the least mercury includes anchovies, crab, crawfish, flounder, hake, oysters, perch, salmon, sardines, scallops, shrimp, sole, squid, tilapia, trout, and whitefish.

I also recommend eating the freshest fish you can find. If you’re buying fish at a market or store, there are a few guidelines you can use to help you get the freshest catch:

  1. Buy fish whole and check to make sure the eyes are clear, not cloudy, and that the gills are bright. If you don’t want to cook a whole fish, ask the folks behind the counter to filet it for you, right then and there.
  2. The fish or filets should be firm to the touch and have an iridescent sheen.
  3. Ask to smell the fish. If it has a “fishy” smell, that’s a clue it’s not fresh.

And last but not least, opt for wild-caught fish rather than farmed fish. I’ve personally witnessed fish farms in which the fish are kept in putrid-looking water and given food that contains who-knows-how-many toxins.

If you can’t find high-quality fish—or if you simply don’t like to eat it—you can still gain the brain health benefits by taking a high-quality, reputable fish oil supplement. As always, I recommend 3,000 mg of DHA/EPA per day.

P.S. For additional ways to protect and restore your brain health—including your memory and ability to focus—check out my Alzheimer’s Prevention and Treatment Plan. To learn more about this comprehensive, online learning tool, or to enroll today, click here now.


“Does eating fish protect our brains from air pollution?” Science Daily, 07/15/2020. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200715163555.htm)