By Kimberly Beauchamp, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (October 26, 2006)—Many studies have found that fish oil is good for your heart. Here’s the latest reason to consider adding some to your diet: a new analysis suggests that people who take 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil could lower their risk of sudden cardiac death.
Heart disease comes in many forms including stroke, heart attack, and clogged arteries (coronary artery disease and peripheral arterial disease). People with heart disease usually have some risk factors like high blood pressure, a strong family history of heart disease, diabetes, being overweight, or smoking. It is surprising that in most cases, people who suffer sudden cardiac death appear to be completely healthy before the event.
Sudden cardiac death—which is responsible for one-half million deaths among Americans each year—can happen when the heart stops beating unexpectedly. It’s not the same thing as a heart attack, which restricts blood flow to part of the heart; instead, the electrical system that keeps the heart beating normally starts to malfunction.
A few different therapies might help prevent sudden cardiac death. Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) can help reset the normal rhythm of the heart once it has stopped. These units can be used by medical professionals or trained bystanders and are sometimes placed in public places like airports and office buildings.
Another kind of device called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) can be surgically placed into the body of a person who is at high risk for sudden cardiac death. These units help to detect and correct the abnormal heartbeats that may be the prelude to sudden cardiac death.
Taking certain types of omega-3 fatty acids—which are abundant in fish oil—might also help prevent sudden cardiac death by raising blood levels of these “healthy fats.”
It’s difficult to study the individual effects of these treatments because they’re often used in combination. A new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine compiled results from previous trials to determine the relative contribution of each treatment.
Taking 1,000 mg of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil each day could be expected to reduce deaths by 6.3%. The beneficial effect of omega-3 fatty acids would be eight times that of AEDs and two times that of ICDs.
The study’s authors commented, “Despite the fact that AEDs do save lives, they are unlikely to ever have a substantial impact on rates of sudden death,” because a particular sequence of events must take place in order for lives to be saved.
Most of the reduction in deaths would actually occur in people who were apparently healthy, suggesting that taking an omega-3 supplement—or at least eating more oily fish—is a good idea for most people.
(Am J Prev Med 2006;31:316–23)
Kimberly Beauchamp, ND, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Rhode Island and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. She cofounded South County Naturopaths in Wakefield, RI. Dr. Beauchamp practices as a birth doula and lectures on topics including whole-foods nutrition, detoxification, and women’s health.
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