Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish on Monday, fish on Tuesday, fish on Wednesday, fish on Thursday, fish on Friday, fish on Saturday, a…n…d fish on Sunday!

What would happen to me if I eat all that fish?

There are several possibilities! I may turn into a fish. I may smell like a fish. I may incite my wife to throw me out of our smelly fishy house. My neighbours may name my residence as “House of Fish”. Or I may reduce my risk of getting a sudden heart attack!

What’s the right answer? Let us find out.

Within a month, two articles appeared on the advantages of consuming more fish each week (not necessarily everyday!). The first one appeared in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) titled – Omega-3 fatty acids in cardiovascular care. The second one in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) titled – Food to Calm the Heart.

Fish and fish oils have omega-3 fatty acids. Also known as n-3 fatty acids. Whole grains, beans, seaweed, and soybean products also contain omega-3 fatty acids.

Eskimos have extremely low rates of death from heart disease because they eat lot of fish. Mediterranean diet is also high in omega-3 fatty acids.

A typical North American diet includes about one fish serving every 10 days. That is about 130 mg/day of omega-3 fatty acids. That is not enough.

Consumption of more fish does not stop one having heart disease. But it does help reduce the incidence of sudden heart attack. Studies have shown that if fish is fed to people who have had a heart attack, then fish can reduce the risk of sudden death by 45 percent.

But what about those who have had no previous heart problems?

The answer to this question is found in a study published in the recent NEJM. The authors studied 22,071 male physicians who were 40 to 84 years old in 1982 and had no history of a heart attack, stroke, or cancer. Their dietary intake of fish was studied, with measurements of blood n-3 fatty acids, and documentation of any cardiac problems during the 17 years of follow-up.

They found that the n-3 fatty acids found in fish are strongly associated with a reduced risk of sudden death among men who had no evidence of prior heart disease.

This information is important, as it is known that 50 percent of all sudden deaths from cardiac causes occur in people with no history of heart disease. Death is usually from irregular heart rhythm or coronary heart disease. Preventive measures (by way of increased consumption of fish) would help.

There is some evidence to suggest that consumption of fish may contribute to lower colon and rectal cancer, and breast cancer.

Next question is: how much fish should we eat and how often?

American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fish per week, especially fatty fish (salmon, bluefish, mackerel, arctic, char, and swordfish).

The CMAJ article recommends three servings of fish per week. Eat fish that is broiled or baked. Avoid breaded fish products, fish sticks, fish and chips, and heavily salted or pickled fish. These are heavily loaded with unhealthy fat.

You can take fish oil capsules with meals. Or liquid egg enriched in mega-3 fatty acids. Vegetarians can find benefit from vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. We should strive for an intake of one gram per day of n-3 fatty acids.

Remember, heart disease is the number one killer in the industrialized world. If eating fish is going to save our population and civilization then let us eat fish on Monday, fish on Wednesday, fish on Friday, golf on Saturday, and go fishing on Sunday!

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