Women with diabetes appear to receive the heart-healthy benefits of a diet rich in fish.
Among women with diabetes (a condition that places them at especially high risk of heart disease) the more fish they ate, the less likely they were to develop heart disease over a 16 year period.
The biggest reduction in risk was seen in women who ate fish at least five times per week. They were 64% less likely to develop heart disease than women who seldom ate fish were.
Currently, the Canadian and American Heart Associations recommends that adults eat at least two servings of fish each week. For both diabetics and nondiabetics, at least two servings of fish per week is a reasonable recommendation, said the Harvard University researchers.
As further support for this recommendation, a growing body of research has shown that fish, especially fatty fish such as tuna, salmon and sardines, that contain omega-3 fatty acids have protective effects on the cardiovascular system. Researchers have found that these substances can lower the risk of developing an irregular heart rhythm and blood clots, and can reduce levels of fat in the blood known as triglycerides -- all risk factors for heart disease.
In addition, other research has demonstrated that people who consume omega-3 fatty acids may experience a reduction in arterial hardness and blood pressure.
The women were participants in the Nurses' Health Study, in which they completed questionnaires every two years describing their eating habits and lifestyles.
Compared to women who said they ate fish less than once per month, women who reported eating fish between one and three times per month were 30% less likely to develop heart disease. The risk of heart disease dropped by 36% among women who reported eating fish between two and four times per week, relative to less frequent fish-eaters.
The lowest risk of heart disease appeared in women who said they ate fish at least five times each week, who were also less likely to die from any cause during the study period, relative to women who rarely ate fish.
Studies are needed to determine if omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in over-the-counter fish oil supplements, are beneficial to patients immediately after a heart attack, he said. If they are, a longer trial could be conducted to see if they can actually prevent heart disease in the first place.
Before omega-3 fatty acids are ever considered part of standard therapy for heart disease, researchers need to ensure the quality of current over-the-counter supplements, which are not controlled by the US Food and Drug Administration.
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