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Author: Steve Sternberg
Source: USA Today

Oily Fish Helps Healthy Hearts, Too
Omega-3 Fatty Acids In Diet Can Prevent Sudden Death

People with no hint of heart trouble can safeguard their hearts – and reduce their risk of sudden death – by eating salmon or other oily fish twice a week or more, doctors report today.

Several studies have shown that fish oils reduce the risk of sudden death among men who have had heart attacks, but the two new landmark studies mark the first time the long-term effects of a diet rich in fish have been examined in healthy men and women.

“This supports what the American Heart Association has already recommended. People should eat two meals of fish a week as part of a heart-healthy diet,” says Christine Albert of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

The research involved long-term studies of doctors and nurses:

A study in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish can reduce a man’s risk of sudden death by about 80%.

In that study, Albert and her team studied men involved in the Physician’s Health Study, a cohort of 22,071 doctors, who began the study 17 years ago with no history of heart disease, stroke or cancer.  The researchers analyzed the blood of 94 doctors who died suddenly of heart disease and compared the findings with those from 184 controls, matched for age and smoking status.

A study in the Journal of American Medical Association showed that omeg-3 fatty acids in fish cut a woman’s risk of heart disease by 33%.

Frank Hu and his colleagues at the Harvard School of Public Health combed through records of 84,688 women taking part in the Nurses Health Study.  Over 16 years, 1,029 women had heart attacks and 484 died of heart disease.  Women who ate the most fish reaped a moderate reduction in their risk of non-fatal heart attacks and a major drop in their risk of sudden death.

Tufts University physician Irwin Rosenberg says omega-3 fatty acids found in certain fish stabilize heart cells electrically, so that a heart attack won’t cause fatal rhythm disturbances. “Even if we couldn’t prevent heart attacks, if we could diminish sudden death, (the number of lives saved) could be huge.”

Neither study examined the benefits of fish oil supplements, but another report in this week’s Circulation shows that they cut nearly in half a man’s risk of death after a heart attack. Supplements may be a way for pregnant women to get omega-3 fatty acids and avoid the high mercury levels found in some fish.