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Eating Fish Cuts Deaths Due to Sudden Cardiac Death

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it seems that eating fish once a week may be enough to protect against death due to sudden cardiac crisis often accompanied by arrhythmia or irregular heat beat. Heart disease takes many forms heart attack can follow a long history of high blood pressure, high serum cholesterol or other measurable factors. Sudden cardiac death often occurs with few or no apparent indicators of impending danger and leads to over 250,000 deaths in the United States each year.


A report in a recent issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that moderate fish intake can reduce heart attacks due to irregular heart beat or arrhythmia by 52%. Although the study was a relatively large one that reviewed 20,551 case histories and covered an 11 year period, it only looked at male physicians between the ages of 40 and 84. The fact that the study only included men is a criticism that is being raised against many large publicly funded research studies. The study was also very specific in terms of which form of heart disease it was looking at. They looked at subjects who had died of sudden death which they defined as “death within one hour of symptom onset, a witnessed cardiac arrest or both or abrupt collapse not preceded by more than one hour of symptoms that precipitated the terminal event”.

Although there was no direct evidence, the authors speculated that it was the increase in omega-3 fatty acids in the diet of the fish eaters that was providing the protective effect. Omega-3 fatty acids are important cell wall components and it is believed that may also be beneficial against certain cancers, rheumatoid arthritis and even asthma. As part of their study, subjects filled out diet surveys. It was the intake of fish that proved to be the most important dietary factor related to the reduction of sudden cardiac deaths. The intake of red meat, chicken, vegetables, fruits, dairy and fried foods was not found to be related to the incidence of sudden death.

The subjects in the study carried out by the Boston doctors were eating little or no fish (less than one serving per month) up to greater than five servings a week. The analyses presented in the paper indicated that one fish serving a week was sufficient to protect against sudden cardiac death, and that eating fish more frequently did not increase that protection.

It would appear that here is even more reason to increase the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet. We should be worrying about the type of fats we are eating as well as the amount of fat in the diet.


Fish consumption and risk of sudden cardiac death. C.M. Albert and co-workers.

Journal of the American Medical Association Vol. 279, p 23 (1998)

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