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Feeling fishy? Study finds omega-3 fatty acids may reduce young women’s risk of heart disease

Dec. 5, 2011

By Maria Serraino

Cod, salmon, herring and mackerel are not only delicious, but according to researchers they can also reduce your risk of heart disease. The study in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association reports that eating fish only a few times a month can have beneficial effects on your health. Fish oil contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids which are believed to protect against heart and vascular disease and improve overall health.

Researchers in Denmark conducted a nationwide population study in women of childbearing age. About 49,000 women, ages 15 to 49, were interviewed and answered food frequency questionnaires including the amount of fish they ate, types and frequency. Lifestyle and family history factors were also taken into account.

The participants were broken down into five groups based on their consumption of fish, from low to high intake. The women in the lowest fish intake group had an increased risk of heart disease compared with women in the highest fish intake group. Women who rarely or never ate fish had 50 per cent more heart problems compared to those who ate fish regularly.

In a subset of women who consistently reported the same frequency of fish intake on three measurement occasions during a 30-week period, risk of heart disease patterns were similar. Risk was approximately three times higher for those who never ate fish compared to women who ate fish high in omega-3 on a weekly basis.   

Researchers recorded 577 heart-related problems during the eight-year followup, including five deaths in women caused by heart disease. Of these, 328 events were due to high blood pressure, 146 from cerebrovascular disease and 103 from ischemic heart disease. Cerebrovascular disease, such as stroke, involves reduced or blocked blood flow to parts of the brain. Ischemic heart disease involves fatty deposit buildup causing narrow arteries and reduced blood flow to the heart.

The study found that heart disease was more common among women who reported eating little to no fish.

The researchers explain that eating fish only a couple of times per month can provide benefits, although they suggest that women eat fish as a main meal at least twice a week for the greatest benefits.

The study found that for young and healthy women who are not necessarily considered high risk for heart disease, eating fish can significantly benefit overall health. 

The study appears in the January 2012 issue of Hypertension.


Read more on healthy eating:

Food for thought: strategies for mindful eating

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  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital