Eating fish is good for the heart, and now new evidence suggests it may do the brain some good as well.
In a study of 260 healthy elderly participants, researchers led by Dr. Cyrus Raji, a resident at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s department of medicine, found that those regularly eating baked or broiled fish — but not fried — lowered their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
Raji and his colleagues took brain scans of all of the volunteers at the start of the study, then again many years later, tracking these changes over an average 10 years. They compared the changes they found in the brain scans with food questionnaires that the participants answered. Compared with non-fish-eaters, those eating fish at least once a week showed less brain-cell loss in the hippocampus and frontal cortex regions of the brain, which are responsible for regulating memory. These people also showed stronger working, or short-term, memory, which allowed them to perform tasks more efficiently.
People who ate fish at least once a week — most of whom consumed fish one to four times a week — were significantly less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment over the five years following their brain scans, compared with those who didn’t eat fish.
But the association may have to do with lifestyle habits other than eating baked or broiled fish that could make people healthier overall. As Dr. Richard Lipton, a neurologist at the Albert Einstein Medical College of Medicine, told USA Today, “One has to wonder if there are other factors associated with fish consumption that they didn’t measure that might be protective. Like maybe people who eat fish exercise more, or eat less total calories.”
The fact that fish-eaters may experience brain benefits from seafood does make sense, however — other studies have suggested that the omega-3 fatty acids found in some fish such as salmon can lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The new findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.
Alice Park is a writer at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @aliceparkny. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.