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Fish Oils May Prevent and Treat Heart Disease

Review of studies involving 40,000 people points up benefits

A new review shows that the omega-3 fatty acids found in certain fish not only prevent cardiovascular disease, but may even help treat it.

While many people know that omega-3 fatty acids are a valuable nutritional or health supplement, many don't realize there is a lot of data from large scientific studies, that show that the omega 3's are not only preventive but also help in therapy for a number of conditions, such as atrial fibrillation, heart attack, atherosclerosis and heart failure.

The report in the Aug. 11 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology cites four trials with almost 40,000 participants that show benefits of omega-3 fatty acids in primary prevention of cardiovascular disease, in treatment after heart attack and, most recently, in heart failure patients.

The benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are such an old story that such studies can go unnoticed. Most cardiologists may not even recognize how much has been done in this area, according to researchers.

As far back as 2002, the American Heart Association issued a scientific statement endorsing omega-3 fatty acid intake, from fish or supplements. It recommended specific amounts of omega-3 fatty acids each day for people in general, with greater intake recommended for people with heart disease.

"For the general population, it should be 500 milligrams a day," Lavie said. "If you have heart disease, it should be 800 or 1,000 milligrams a day."

It's got to be the right kind of fish---the oily species that have a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, such as redfish, trout, makerel, or salmon.

Only five-hundred milligrams per day is all that is needed for most people to achieve the recommended intake. This equates to about two fatty fish meals per week.

But too many people eat non-oily fish such as catfish or have it fried, which reduces its health benefits.

Larger studies with evidence showing that populations such as Asians and Alaskan Eskimos, whose diets are rich in fish oil, have a low incidence of cardiovascular disease.

The picture is not complete, however. Studies still must be done to determine the relative benefits of DHA and EPA, the long-chain fatty acids in the omega-3 family. And the American Heart Association says that Omega-3 supplements should be taken only after consulting with a doctor, because too much can cause excessive bleeding in some people.

Another study now in the recruiting stage will test omega-3 fatty acids to prevent not only cardiovascular disease but also cancer. The trial, which is now recruiting 10,000 men aged 60 and older and 10,000 women aged 65 and older. The researchers will test not only the effect of omega-3 fatty acids but also of vitamin D.

Stay tuned for more information as this great nutrient is further researches with great hope for prevention and treatment.


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