Are the Salmon Brain Health Benefits All Hype? Surprising New Revelations Cast a Different Light on the Issue
We hate to tell you this, but your brain is fat. No, we don't mean "your brain shouldn't wear that dress in public" fat; we mean literally fat. The basic structure of your brain is over 60% fatty acids. This means that your brain needs fat in order to function properly.
Lots of health and medical experts out there say that salmon is a good fish to eat because not only does it have a ton of fat, it has the fat that your brain needs to stay healthy and function optimally. But is this really the case? Are we being corrupted by "big salmon" or some other insidious force into eating this delightfully colored and flavorful fish? Today, we're going to take a look at the facts and figure out the truth behind the salmon controversy.
Is Salmon Actually Bad for Your Health? Some People Seem to Think So
Among the google search results extolling the health benefits of salmon, there is some serious shade being thrown salmon's way. But before you start to believe in all the fear-mongering, you have to ask yourself one simple but important question: where is this information coming from? Believe it or not, most of the salmon haters out there aren't vilifying the fish to protect people's brain health. The vast majority of the hate - if not all of it - is coming from vegans, animal rights activists, and environmental protection advocates. These groups have some serious beef with the salmon industry. And it's not just focused on salmon, either. They have the same "beef" with the beef industry, and the poultry industry, and the dairy industry...You get the idea.
In the interest of fairness, though, let's take a look at their arguments. People on the anti-salmon side of the fence claim that this particular fish is as high in cholesterol as a hamburger - and since we all know that cholesterol causes heart disease, it proves that salmon is bad for us. According to the journal of Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, though, the vast majority of first world countries do not have upper limit dietary guidelines for cholesterol intake (because there is no need). The journal also highlights the fact that the scientific evidence against dietary cholesterol as a whole is flimsy at best and needs to be re-evaluated. As a matter of fact, the dietary cholesterol in salmon helps protect your nervous system by reducing the brain inflammation which contributes to learning and memory disorders, among other things.
Some of the anti-salmon people also argue that it raises blood sugar and puts people at risk for diabetes. But they basically shoot themselves in the foot when they quote the Diabetes Care study which they claim proves their point. Not only does this particular study show the significant benefits of fish oil on heart health, but the increase in glucose levels plateaued at three weeks and stayed stable after that. So there's no need to panic.
The other studies they like to quote - including a 2000 study from the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Metastasis alongside a 2007 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition - explore the hypothesis that consuming salmon increases your risk of colon cancer and bone loss, respectively. It's easy to be confused by the first study, because the very first line of the abstract states in plain language that omega-3 fatty acids increase tumor growth...in rats, and at insanely high concentrations. But the main point which gets drowned in the scientific jargon is that the study was trying to find a connection between a specific chemical reaction in tumor cells, and whether or not fish oil was connected to it. And guess what? They failed to find that specific connection. Also, what are vegans doing using a study on rats to prove their "don't harm animals" point? It's a question worth asking.
The AJCN study doesn't get much better. Feel free to read the abstract for yourself, but in a nutshell: eating a fattier diet, especially diets where the fat comes from animal products (like salmon) showed a small drop in bone density in women. Salmon was only a small part of that equation, if at all. Furthermore, the bone density loss was not observed in men. And the real kicker? The difference in bone density in women who ate the animal-fat vs. non-animal-fat diets (which may or may not contain salmon) was a whopping 2%!
To be fair, there are a lot of companies who cultivate and sell salmon using questionable or environmentally harmful methods. And yes, if we all stopped eating salmon tomorrow, they would go bankrupt. But is that scenario really within the realm of possibility? And are there that many vegan-friendly food substitutes that can deliver the same health benefits as salmon? If you're concerned about the environmental impact of salmon fishing/farming, do a little research. Start looking into companies who fish or farm their salmon in a way that does minimal or no damage to the ecosystem, and buy your fish from them. That way, you can have your salmon and eat it, too.
Actual Salmon Brain Health Benefits
Just because the evidence against salmon is weak doesn't automatically make salmon good. To make that generalization, you have to look at all the pro-salmon evidence. And there's plenty of it:
- The British Journal of Nutrition found a connection between omega-3 fatty acids (of which salmon is an excellent source) after a thorough systematic review of several medical journal databases
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids have a strong connection to the reduction of depression symptoms according to a 2009 study from CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics
- These same fatty acids have been shown to reduce symptoms of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease in animal models
- There's also strong evidence to suggest that omega-3's can calm the hyperactive signaling in children's brains who suffer from ADHD
Beyond brain health, salmon contains levels of vitamin D and other nutrients for better eyesight, younger-looking skin, cancer protection, and more.
Brain Health Beyond Salmon
The anti-salmon backlash to eating this delicious pink fish for brain health isn't all it's cracked up to be. There are plenty of easily provable health benefits to salmon, and few excuses not to eat it. But if you can't afford a regular dose of salmon, if you're concerned about the environmental impacts of salmon, or if you just don't like fish, there are other solutions. Nootropic supplements contain many of the nutrients that healthy fish like salmon do, but they're usually more affordable and have less of an environmental impact. We strongly suggest you start there if you're looking for a salmon alternative for brain health.