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The Fish Factor

Source: Heart-Healthy Living, Spring 2007

That salmon sizzling on your grill is much more than a delicious meal. The pink steak’s fish oil (also available as supplements and prescriptions) may help heart attack sufferers live longer lives.

For years, European doctors have commonly prescribed fish oil to heart attack survivors. More than a decade ago, an Italian study showed a 20 percent decrease in death rate among patients who took 1 gram of fish oil a day versus a control group who didn’t. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has yet to approve fish oil as a post-heart attack treatment, the practice is gaining support in the American medical community. The American College of Cardiology recently beefed up its recommendations about the benefits of fish oil, also known as omega-3 fatty acids.

“There are survival advantages to taking fish oils,” says Matthew Sorrentino, M.D., a cardiologist and spokesman for the American College of Cardiology. “The mechanism isn’t clear,but fish oil may prevent additional heart attacks and abnormal rhythms.”

About 17 percent of U.S. Doctors prescribe fish oil as a preventive heart-health measure, according to a study in Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine. While Sorrentino advocates the benefits of fish oil capsules, he also encourages patients to eat more fish.

“Even for people without heart trouble, I’ll recommend two fish meals a week, which can give you some of the benefits of fish oil.” says Sorrentino, an associate professor in the University of Chicago Department of Medicine. “I’ll expand that to a daily dose for those who have a history of heart attack or whose triglycerides are higher than normal.”

For heart-healthy benefits, you need about 1 to 2 grams of fish oil daily, a challenge for most people to achieve by diet alone. You would have to eat 10 ounces of salmon – about 3 servings – to get 1 gram of fish oil.