Heart disease remains among the world’s top killers, causing one in every four deaths in the U.S. alone. A paper suggests that to reduce your risk of succumbing to the disease, one of the best things you can do is eat fish.
The study examined the risk of sudden death caused by a heart attack among male U.S. doctors. The research defined “sudden death” as death or collapse that occurred within an hour after the onset of symptoms, a witnessed cardiac arrest, or both.
About 12 months into the study, 20,551 subjects (aged 40 to 84 years old in 1982) filled out a questionnaire that inquired into what fish they ate. They also had to inform the researchers how often they ate fish.
By the end of 1995, 133 deaths had occurred. After taking different related factors into account, the researchers determined that those who ate fish at least once a week had 52 percent lower risk of dying a sudden death compared to those who ate fish less than monthly.
The researchers did not find any significant benefit from eating a specific type of fish or from consuming more than one portion per week. They also clarified that eating fish did not reduce the frequency of heart attacks, but it improved the odds of surviving such an incident.
The study was part of the U.S. Physicians Health Study.
Fish helps stabilize your heart’s rhythm
Researchers in the aforementioned study attributed the results to the anti-arrhythmic properties of fish. Fatty fish like tuna and salmon are particularly high in omega-3 fatty acids which have been proven in several studies to help regulate cardiovascular function and suppress dangerous heart rhythms.
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Arrhythmia refers to a condition where your heart beats irregularly. It could beat too fast (tachycardia) or too slow (bradycardia), or it could skip a beat every now and then. The problem is caused by a number of factors, ranging from mildly harmful (stress and bad habits) to downright life-threatening (heart attack).
Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the secrets behind the anti-arrhythmic effects of eating fish. These omega-3 fatty acids help relax the heart muscles and reduce the risk of potentially deadly myocardial irritation.
Scientists first suspected the cardiovascular benefits of consuming fish and omega-3 after observing how coronary heart disease occurred infrequently among Greenland Eskimos despite their high-fat diet. This was also true among the Japanese. Research pointed to a diet that includes fish as the reason behind the low incidence of heart disease in the two groups.
Omega-3 has other benefits
Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial not just for boosting cardiovascular function, but also for improving general health.
- They help you see properly – This is especially the case for DHA, which is a structural component in the retina of the eye. Eating a diet rich in omega-3 is linked to a lower risk of macular degeneration which, along with cataracts, is one of the leading causes of blindness today.
- They help against inflammation – Omega-3 has been linked to reductions in inflammatory chemicals, such as eicosanoids and cytokines. Too much inflammation can lead to cancer, heart disease, and other serious conditions.
- They improve brain development and function – DHA is a vital component of the brain, so consuming omega-3 helps ensure proper brain development in infants. These fatty acids can also help in managing mental disorders such as schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. Finally, they have also been linked to a reduced risk of age-related mental decline and Alzheimer’s disease.
- They support bones and joints – Consuming omega-3 has been linked to reduced joint pain among people with arthritis. These fatty acids also improve the absorption of calcium, leading to increased bone density and lower risks of osteoporosis.