Heart and Brain Health: Eating Fish Weekly Is Good for Your Body and Mind

You likely don’t need us to tell you that fish is good for you, but there’s mounting evidence that including it in your diet can positively impact everything from your brain to your heart. As we previously reported, there’s new evidence that fish could even help you get a good night’s sleep.

GettyImages-514537546 Halibut served at a White House Dinner. Health organizations including the Food and Drug Administration and American Heart Association advise eating fish at least weekly. BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Related: Eating Fish Weekly Helps Increase IQ and Give You a Better Night's Sleep, Study Says 

A study from the University of Pennsylvania found that, when eaten weekly, fish helped kids sleep better and also boosted their IQ, by about four points on average.

The National Institute of Health explains that the main source of the food's health benefits are omega-3 fatty acids, which are plentiful in seafood. The term actually refers to three separate acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). The first is prevalent in plant oils, like canola, while seafood is a good source for the last two. These omega-3s are essential to our health as they help the heart, blood vessels, lungs and immune system function.  

As dementia and Alzheimer's rates are estimated to grow, many researchers are focusing on brain health. In 2016, the NIH reported they were doubling their investment in this subject area, bringing the agency's investment up to more than 150 million for the year. Many fish studies have actually looked at the impacts of how the food impacts cognitive development, and some indicate that omega-3s could lower risk of dementia and help with brain function.

One study in 2014 indicated that eating fish once a week increased the area of the brain associated with memory, reported The Atlantic. Another study in 2016 revealed that people who ate seafood were at a decreased risk of developing Alzheimer’s, according to Forbes.

And it’s not just the brain that could get a little boost from seafood. Studies have shown that people who include fish in their diets at least once per week were less likely to die of heart disease, compared to those who very rarely or never consumed the protein, according to the National Institute of Health. While there is no definitive proof that consuming seafood will prevent you from getting heart disease, the American Heart Association does advise people worried about their tickers to eat two servings a week as there’s evidence that omega-3 fatty acids could decrease fat levels and lower blood pressure.

Aside from your head and your heart, some studies show the omega-3s found in foods could lower risk of breast and colorectal cancer, though there is much more research that needs to be conducted before a link can be established.

While there’s a lot of research linking omega-3s and disease, it’s important to remember these studies simply indicate a link and do not show a causal relationship. But if you’re not already eating a weekly serving of fish, and aren’t opposed to seafood, the Food and Drug Administration strongly advises eating two servings a week to reap any potential health benefits.

“Our advice is to eat 2 to 3 servings of a variety of cooked fish, or about 8 to 12 ounces, in a week,” the FDA advises on their website. Otherwise, they believe you could be missing out on the "...high quality protein, minerals and vitamins present in fish that are beneficial to overall health.”