WASHINGTON, April 9 /PRNewswire/ -- A research article published in the April 11 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) indicates that men with high blood levels of long chain omega-3 fatty acids were strongly protected against sudden death from heart attack. (Note to Editor: Omega-3 fatty acids are also known as n-3 fatty acids, and are highly unsaturated fats that occur naturally in fish and other marine products.)
According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), one of the dietary supplement industry's leading trade associations, this is one more positive study highlighting the benefits of this important nutrient. "We already know that omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of sudden death after a heart attack," said John Cordaro, president and chief executive officer, CRN. "Now we have learned that omega-3 fatty acids significantly reduce the risk of sudden death in people with no prior cardiovascular disease. Good nutrition is an essential lifestyle component, but unfortunately we don't always select our foods properly to provide the nutrients we need. This study underscores the importance of dietary supplements with omega-3 fatty acids to help reduce the risk of sudden death from cardiac arrest."
The study, conducted by Albert et al., was based on data from the Physicians' Health Study. The degree of protection was 72% in men in the third quartile of omega-3 blood levels and 81% in men in the top quartile, as compared to the risk among physicians in the bottom quartile. The study subjects were 94 physicians "in whom sudden death occurred as the first manifestation of cardiovascular disease" and 184 matched controls.
The authors conclude that, "taken together with previous data from observational studies and randomized trials, these prospective data suggest that the long-chain n-3 fatty acids found in fish may reduce the risk of sudden death from cardiac causes, even among men without a history of cardiovascular disease. Because more than 50 percent of all sudden deaths from cardiac causes occur in people with no history of cardiac disease, preventive efforts must address this segment of the population to have a substantial effect on the overall incidence of sudden death from cardiac causes. If the observed association is causal, increasing the intake of n-3 fatty acids by eating more fish or by taking supplements is an intervention that could be applied to this segment of the population at low cost and little risk."
In an accompanying "perspective," Irwin H. Rosenberg, M.D., calls the evolution of the research on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids "a model for any scientific effort to identify a functional food." He points out that, in addition to protecting against sudden death from cardiac arrhythmias, long chain fatty acids such as EPA and DHA confer other benefits. These include lowering triglyceride levels, affecting thrombosis, supporting the immune system, enhancing development of the central nervous system in infants, and helping modulate blood pressure.