by Craig Weatherby
Heart failure, also known as congestive heart failure, is a condition in which the heart can’t pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
The condition afflicts about 5.7 million people in the United States and kills about 300,000 every year.
Breast cancer gets much more attention, but heart disease kills eight times as many women annually… about 329,000 vs. 41,000.
Women account for about six in ten of the annual deaths attributed to heart failure in the U.S.… a total of about 162,000 heart-failure-related deaths among women.
It usually occurs after menopause, and rates rise sharply among women (and men) after age 65.
Heart failure is usually caused by coronary heart disease (CHD), high blood pressure, and/or diabetes, any of which can weaken the heart’s pumping action over time.
And according to new findings from the US and Sweden, eating omega-3-rich fatty fish twice a week may reduce a woman’s risk of heart failure by 30 percent.
Last year, the Swedish-Americanresearch team behind today’s report published an analysis of health and diet data from 39,367 Swedish men aged 45 to 79.
That analysis indicated that higher intakes of omega-3-rich fatty fish reduced men’s risk of heart failure by one-third (See “Fatty Fish May Cut Men's Heart-Failure Risk”).
Let’s take a look at the results of the new analysis, which involved Swedish women.
Analysis links fatty fish to lower heart failure risk in women
For 18 years, researchers followed 36,234 women participating in the Swedish Mammography Cohort study (Levitan EB et al. 2010).
The women, aged between 48 and 83, reported their intakes of various foods though periodic surveys.
During the 18 year study, 651 cases of heart failure were documented.
Researchers from Harvard Medical School and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute joined forces to analyze data from the study.
Their analysis showed that eating one serving of fatty fish per week was associated with a 14 percent reduction in the risk of heart failure, compared with women who did not eat any fatty fish.
And it showed that eating two servings of fatty fish per week was associated with a 30 percent reduction in risk.
The researchers also estimated the women’s omega-3 intake (based on the types of fish eaten), and found that the highest intakes of omega-3s were associated with a 25 percent reduction in risk.
As the researchers wrote, “Moderate consumption of fatty fish (1–2 servings per week) and marine omega-3 fatty acids were associated with a lower rate of first heart failure hospitalization or death in this population” (Levitan EB et al. 2010).
Being an epidemiological study, it cannot prove a cause-effect link between higher fish intake and lower risk of heart failure.
However, it seems rather unlikely that a clinical study anywhere near this size and length will ever be conducted... and we have considerable evidence that omega-3s exert physiological effects consistent with reduced risk of heart failure.
For more on the science underlying hope that omega-3s may help prevent or improve heart failure, see “Fish Oil May Help Congestive Heart Failure Patients “Fish Oil May Help Congestive Heart Failure Patients” and “Heart Failure Findings Favor Omega-3s over Statin Drug.”
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- European Society of Cardiology (ESC). Eating fatty fish and marine omega-3 fatty acids may reduce risk of heart failure. April 22, 2009. Accessed online at http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-04/esoc-eff042009.php
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