Why we’re partnering with John West to raise awareness of brain health


By Alzheimer's Research UK | Thursday 06 June 2024

As you may have seen, we’ve recently been announced as the new charity partner for John West, one of the UK’s leading seafood brands.

The company will be supporting our mission for a cure for dementia by donating £75,000 to support our Think Brain Health campaign, and featuring it on 13 million packs in shops across the UK.

Think Brain Health is based on research which shows that up to four in 10 dementia cases could be linked to preventable factors. Despite this, our most recent survey of public attitudes reveals that only three in 10 people in the UK realise it’s possible to reduce their risk of dementia.

We need to change that. Through Think Brain Health, we’re helping to educate and empower the public about the steps they can take to look after their brains and reduce their risk of developing dementia.

Think Brain Health has three pillars. Two of them – ‘Stay sharp’ and ‘Keep Connected’ – are about encouraging people to look after their brains by looking after mental wellbeing and staying connected to the people around them.

The third pillar is ‘Love your heart’ – we know what’s good for your heart is good for your brain. And it’s this that links to our partnership with John West, because one of best ways to look after your heart is by eating a healthy, balanced diet, as this helps keep our heart and blood vessels healthy.


Why is a balanced diet important for brain health?

Our brain relies on a constant supply of blood, delivering oxygen and nutrients which help brain cells to function. If this gets disrupted, problems can occur – and these can get worse over time. Research has now shown a clear link between problems like high blood pressure, a stroke or damaged blood vessels, and a higher risk of developing dementia.

So, things that lower the risk of heart and blood vessel diseases have an added benefit of helping to keep our brains fighting fit too. And our diet plays an important role in this.


Does following a Mediterranean diet help?

Research suggests that adopting a healthier diet – for example the Mediterranean diet – can help to maintain overall memory and thinking abilities. And although the evidence is still building, some studies suggest that following the Mediterranean or a similar healthy diet could reduce dementia risk.

As a result, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a healthy diet to reduce the risk of cognitive decline or dementia.

In practice, this means a diet that contains high levels of foods like:

  • White and oily fish, such as mackerel and sardines.
  • Fruit and vegetables.
  • Nuts, seeds and olive oil.
  • Grains and legumes.

And lower levels of foods that are high in saturated fat and salt, such as:

  • Red meat – such as beef, pork and lamb.
  • Dairy products like cheese and butter
  • Cakes and biscuits.
  • Processed foods like pies and pizza.

How specific foods, or substances in foods, affect our brain health is less clear, and a subject of ongoing research.

One of many aspects of our diets that researchers are studying are omega-3 fatty acids – found in oily fish. It is a popular belief that omega-3 boosts brain health and is important for staying sharp. But what does the evidence say?


What are omega-3 fatty acids, and do they boost brain health?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of similar molecules found in nature, many of which are important for keeping our cells – including our brain cells – intact, working and healthy. But our bodies can’t make omega-3 fatty acids directly, so we must get them from the foods we eat.

A well-known source of omega-3 is oily fish, such as mackerel and sardines. Some plant-based foods, such as seaweed, chia and flax seeds, also contain some types of omega-3. These dietary sources seem to be most important for omega-3 intake. There are also a variety of omega-3 supplements available in health shops – evidence that these are beneficial is much less certain.

But does omega-3 in our diet protect our brain health? In short, the answer isn’t clear yet.

Researchers have been studying how omega-3 affects the brain and dementia risk for many years. They have focussed on the effects of eating fish regularly or adopting a diet containing more omega-3, or whether taking omega-3 supplements affects dementia risk.

While the picture is still incomplete, there are tentative positive signs that eating oily fish (a source of omega-3) and/or having more omega-3 in the diet could be beneficial.

A study from November 2021 found that people who ate fish more regularly had healthier blood vessels, which could, in theory, reduce risk of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia – although the study didn’t directly measure this.

Studies have also shown that people who had higher levels of omega-3 in their blood (regarded as a sign of a diet higher in omega-3) had higher scores on thinking tests and healthier brain structures than people who had lower omega-3 levels.

But there’s still a way to go before we have enough evidence which proves conclusively that omega-3 in our diets can protect our brain health and decrease risk of dementia. And the WHO doesn’t regard the evidence around omega-3 supplements as sufficiently robust to recommend them for protecting brain health.


So, what’s the bigger picture? 

Overall, the exact role of omega-3 in dementia risk is still unclear. However, if you are torn between a greasy cheeseburger or a mackerel fillet, your heart and brain might thank you for choosing the fish. It could have less saturated fat and salt, whilst supplying us with the omega-3 that could keep our cells healthy.

It’s sensible advice that, by eating a healthy balanced diet, including foods rich in omega-3, people can help keep theirhearts and brains healthy. Although the potential benefits of omega-3 for brain health are not yet fully understood, incorporating foods like oily fish, walnuts, seeds, and seaweed into a balanced diet could benefit both your heart and your brain.

Remember – our brain health depends on many factors, some of which we may be able to influence, whilst others we cannot change. We do know that loving our heart, staying sharp and keeping connected are all ways to protect our brain health. Eating a balanced diet is one way to achieve this, alongside an active lifestyle and staying socially connected to the world and people around us.


Visit our Think Brain Health site to discover more about brain health and reducing your risk of dementia. Wondering how you can incorporate more oily fish in your diet? The John West website has delicious recipe ideas that can inspire you: https://www.john-west.co.uk/recipes/

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Alzheimer's Research UK