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Second Wind: Think fish to keep age at bay

What scares older people?

Well, having their money disappear before they do – that’s one big worry. So is the idea of losing a mate. But I’d say the greatest bogeyman might be the prospect (or reality) of Alzheimer’s disease.

We with silver hair see each glitch in memory as a sign of brain disease. (Age turns us into unlicensed diagnosticians.) In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is so familiar a threat that we now have a nickname for it: AD.



So, will there ever be a cure for AD – this disease that steals people’s memories and along with it, a productive old age? One prominent scientist, neurobiologist Frank LaFerla of UC Irvine, thinks there will be an effective treatment within 15 years. A step in that direction is Dr. La Ferla’s development of transgenic lab mice that can replicate the cell damage of human AD in their little mouse brains. (Imagine Mickey Mice with memory issues.)

So what’s happening in Dr. LaFerla’s lab now? Here’s one thing: The influence of diet in relation to the brain cell markers for Alzheimer’s disease. In a recent article, he reported that the essential fatty acids, DHA and DHA-DPA – substances found in various foods – “look very promising as therapeutic agents.” In fact, other scientists have shown that DHA in mouse food actually reversed some of the cell pathology typically found in human AD brains.




Fatty acids for dummies

Now most of us have trouble learning about the fatty acid family of omega-3’s, omega-6’s and omega-9’s even though they are essential to our health. Who of us remembers that DHA – one fatty acid studied by Dr. LaFerla – stands for docosahexaenoic acid? And who knows that DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid? And probably too few of us know that fish are a healthy omega-3 source. (Actually, my grandma knew that. She gave us cod liver oil every day and fish several times a week, especially on Friday so we wouldn’t go to hell by eating meatloaf.)

Her instinct for healthy choices proves there’s no need to be a chemist when you make out menus. Just remember that’s not a merely a salmon on your plate. It’s a feast of omega-3 fatty acids that may help us make it through life with all our marbles.

So what’s for dinner?

Though salmon is the star of most modern menus, when it comes to eating for health, also consider the mackerel, the neglected sardine, the underrated anchovy, and the wonderful herring in sour cream. Or make a salmon salad sandwich for lunch – celery and lite mayo added to leftover cooked salmon.

There are other sources of omega-3 including flax seeds and flax oil, fortified food, food supplements and micro-algae from the sea. The micro-algae part makes perfect sense because algae are basically dinner for fish and in turn, the fish on our dinner plates pass their omega-3’s on to us.

But also note…

There are a few caveats for fish-a-philiacs: Farm-raised fish have less DHA than free-range fish. Plus the big fish like swordfish have too many stored nasties like mercury to make them a good choice.

A smaller cold-water fish from a really big pond – the ocean – seems to be the ticket. Last, the omega-3 information at http://www.wikipedia.com suggests that people suffering from cardiac arrest should not consume many foods with omega-3’s. (Go googling yourself if you want more information about omega-3’s and their fatty acid cousins.)

Words for the wise

Fish aren’t the only thing on the menu when it comes to the possible prevention of Alzheimer’s disease. Fruit and vegetable juices, blueberries, green tea and turmeric (in curry powder) have all been identified as being possibly protective. And we’ll be hearing more about the food/AD connection as scientists scramble to find prevention strategies, treatments and cures. (Dementia costs worldwide have reached $315 billion and that doesn’t even begin to reflect the expense of human spirit and the waste of our later years.)

Meanwhile, my mate, Cranky Pants, a burger and beer guy, is going to complain he’s growing gills from all the fish dinners. So do any of you have easy fish recipes that will change his mind? Please send them to melwalsh@melwalsh.com. If they work out, I’ll put them on my Web site, http://www.melwalsh.com

Unless I forget.

ooo

Mel Walsh is a local gal with a degree in gerontology, the study of older people, but she has learned far more about aging from life itself. Take her Web site out for a spin, http://www.melwalsh.com. Buy her book, “Hot Granny,” and enjoy the giggles.


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