Even in unbalanced diets, omega-3s protect against unexpected death

by Randy Hartnell

About 335,000 people die suddenly each year of coronary heart disease outside hospital settings—mostly from myocardial infarctions or “heart attacks”—according to the American Heart Association.

This is a truly astonishing number: more American deaths every year than 100 9-11s, 225 Iraq wars or two giant tsunamis. It seems unbelievable that up to half of these could be avoided by a simple dietary change.

Yet, as readers of this newsletter know, study after study indicates that omega-3s from cold water fish like salmon, sablefish, tuna, and sardines hold this miraculous power. The latest evidence comes from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, which examined 45,000 men and put omega-3s at the heart of cardiac sudden-death prevention.  The researchers set out to determine the roll of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) on the incidence of heart disease.

The results showed a drastic 40-50 percent drop in sudden cardiac death among men who consumed only a modest amount of omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) from fish.

As the researchers said, “This lower risk was seen with modest dietary intake (>= 250 mg/d), the equivalent of approximately 1 to 2 fatty fish meals per week (or only two Vital Choice sockeye salmon oil capsules daily).

Imagine the blitz of advertising we'd be subjected to were the pharmaceutical industry to discover a side-effect-free drug (now there's an oxymoron!) that could reduce your risk of sudden death from heart attack so dramatically.

Omega-3s help in any dietary context

To their surprise, the researchers also found that the study participants enjoyed a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death regardless of their intake of omega-6 fatty acids, which, in America, is typically far too high in relation to omega-3 intake.

As they said, “… these results suggest that attention to relative intakes of n-3 [omega-3] and n-6 [omega-6] fatty acids may be less important than simply increasing the intake of n-3 [omega-3] PUFAs.”

The study results also indicated that intermediate-chain omega-3s from plant foods lower the risk of death various types of cardiovascular disease. The best plant sources of omega-3s are the oils from flaxseed, hemp seed, and walnuts, whole nuts and seeds in general, and dark green leafy vegetables.


Mozaffarian D, Ascherio A, Hu FB, Stampfer MJ, Willett WC, Siscovick DS, Rimm EB. Interplay between different polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease in men. Circulation. 2005 Jan 18;111(2):157-64.