BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS. Sudden cardiac death kills about 250,000 Americans every year and half of them have no known cardiovascular disease when they are suddenly struck down. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard School of Public Health now report that men with a high intake of oils from fatty fish (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid, also known as EPA and DHA) have an 81 per cent lower risk of sudden cardiac death than do men with a low intake. Their study involved a group of 15,000 male physicians aged 40 to 82 years when they enrolled in the study. Over a 17-year follow-up period 94 men with no known cardiovascular disease died suddenly from heart failure (sudden cardiac death). Blood samples taken from the men at enrollment were analyzed for fatty acids and the results compared to those obtained from 184 controls. The average age of both controls and cases was 58 years.
The researchers found that men whose blood levels of EPA and DHA constituted 6.87 per cent or more of their total fatty acid concentration had an 81 per cent lower risk of sudden cardiac death than did men whose level was 3.58 per cent or less. This correlation remained after adjusting for confounding factors such as diabetes, hypertension, exercise, aspirin usage, cholesterol levels, alcohol consumption, etc. The researchers conclude that their findings support the hypothesis that fish oils (EPA and DHA) are responsible for the inverse association between fish consumption and sudden death.
Dr. Irwin Rosenberg, MD of Tufts University comments that the study is further proof that striving for a daily intake of 1 gram per day of fish oils (from fatty fish) helps protect against sudden cardiac death.
Albert, Christine M., et al. Blood levels of long-chain n-3 fatty acids and the risk of sudden death. New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 346, April 11, 2002, pp. 1113-18
Rosenberg, Irwin H. Fish: food to calm the heart. New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 346, April 11, 2002, pp. 1102-03