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Fish: Take Them To Heart

Fish: Take Them To HeartNew research continues to show that eating fatty fish can significantly reduce heart problems, and even death, say Tufts experts.

Boston [04.10.02] Past research about the benefits of eating fatty fish received new support this week, following the release of a flurry of new studies showing connections between omega-3 fatty acids and heart health. An increasing amount of research, say Tufts experts, shows just a few servings of fish each week can go a long way to reducing the risk of heart attacks or other heart problems.

"In a commentary about [a new study on omega-3 fatty acids] to be published tomorrow in The New England Journal of Medicine, [Tufts' Dr. Irwin Rosenberg] noted that studies conducted over the last 20 years have found links between eating fish and a decreased risk of death from heart disease," reported The New York Times. "He also noted that the fatty acids have long been credited with reducing sudden death, blood clots and blood levels of triglycerides, which play a role in heart disease."

Rosenberg -- a University professor of nutrition and medicine at Tufts and dean of the University's Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy -- said the American Heart Association's recommendation to eat two servings of fatty or oily fish each week is important to follow.

"It's potentially lifesaving," Rosenberg told the Times.

Found in salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines, omega-3 fatty acids are also credited with preventing irregular heart rhythms, which can cause sudden death.

"The fatty acids help ward off sudden death by being incorporated into cell membranes in the heart, where they have a stabilizing effect on heart rhythm," reported The New York Times. "When the heart is under stress -- from lack of oxygen, for instance -- it has a tendency to develop abnormal rhythms, which can be fatal. The omega-3's can help keep the rhythm normal even when the heart is under stress, Dr. Rosenberg said."

According to USA Today, Rosenberg said that particular benefit of eating fish, on its own, is important.

"Even if we couldn't prevent heart attacks, if we could diminish sudden death, (the number of lives saved) could be huge," the Tufts expert said in the USA Today article.

But are fish the only source of omega-3 fatty acids?

In a study by Italian researchers published on Thursday, scientists suggest that fish oil supplements may have a similar effect.

But Alice Lichtenstein -- a Tufts nutrition professor and vice chair of the American Heart Association's nutrition committee -- cautions against substituting supplements for actual servings of fish.

"I personally am not willing to say at this point that supplements are a good substitute for fish," she told CNN.

Without more evidence, Lichtenstein said the AHA isn't likely to recommend supplements yet.

"I think one can't make an absolute judgment on the basis of one study," she told CNN. "However, this certainly is a major contribution to the body of data that's currently available."

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