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Originally published April 26 2009

Fish Oil and Fatty Fish Protect Men from Heart Failure

by Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor

(NaturalNews) A new study just published in the European Heart Journal concludes that eating fatty fish and the marine omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil appears to protect men from heart failure. This is important news because heart failure (also known as congestive heart failure, or CHF) is an enormous health problem in the U.S. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, approximately five million Americans have the condition and about 300,000 die from heart failure each year.

Heart failure is a condition in which the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently. In fact, the heart is be unable to send blood throughout the body with adequate force and circulation can suffer. The result can be fatigue and other symptoms, including swollen legs. Medication is usually the first line of treatment for the condition and, when therapies fail, the last hope for people with heart failure is a heart transplant.

How could eating fatty fish and omega-3s have any impact on this cardiac problem? The answer probably is found in earlier studies which have shown fish oils help combat a host of heart-related problems such as high triglycerides, high blood pressure and fast heart rate that are associated with the development of heart failure.

For the recent study, a team of US and Swedish researchers followed 39,367 Swedish men between the ages of 45 and 79, from 1998 to 2004. They kept a record of what the men ate and tracked their health during this period through the Swedish inpatient records and cause-of-death registers. Over the six year period, 597 men without a history of heart disease or diabetes developed heart failure and 34 died.

The scientists documented that the men who consumed fatty fish (such as herring, mackerel, salmon, whitefish and char) once a week were 12% less likely to develop heart failure compared to the men who never ate fatty fish. In addition, the researchers found another, more statistically significant association between the intake of marine omega-3 fatty acids (found in cod livers and other fish oils) and heart failure. The men who consumed approximately 0.36 grams a day were 33% less likely to develop heart failure than their counterparts who ate little or no marine omega-3 fatty acids (0.15-0.22 grams a day).

Curiously, it was the eating of only one serving of fatty fish a week and a moderate intake of omega-3 fatty acids that was linked with the heart protective benefits. Eating more fish throughout the week not only didn't produce a larger benefit, it returned the chance of heart failure to the same levels seen in men who didn't consume fish or fish oils. However, the researcher who headed the study, Emily Levitan, MD, a cardiology research fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, suggested several explanations for this finding.

"The higher rate of heart failure in men who consumed the most fatty fish or marine omega-3 fatty acids compared with moderate consumption may be due to chance," Dr. Levitan explained in a statement to the media. "Alternatively, these may be men in poor health who ate more fish to try to improve their ill-health, and therefore the fatty fish and fatty acids appear to be risk factors for heart failure. I suspect this is the most likely explanation, but we cannot be certain from our data."

Dr. Levitan added that the new study supports the idea that a healthy diet, including moderate consumption of fatty fish, can reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases including heart failure. "It will be important to replicate these findings in other populations, particularly those including women, as our study was conducted in men only," she noted.

Reference: "Fish consumption, marine omega-3 fatty acids, and incidence of heart failure: a population-based prospective study of middle-aged and elderly men". European Heart Journal. doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehp111.

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About the author

Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA's "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine's "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic's "Men's Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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