Women's health * Healthy living

Oily fish cuts heart disease risk in younger women

fish Protective effect of omega-3 fatty acids

Eating oily fish can dramatically reduce the risk of heart disease in young women, according to new research.

Young women who ate oily fish once a week reduced their risk of heart disease and stroke by ninety per cent compared with those who rarely or never ate fish, a Danish study found.

Oily fish contains long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are thought to protect against heart disease and stroke.

Most research which has looked at the health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids have focused on men.

However, other studies have suggested that some risk factors for heart disease may be gender specific and women may be more at risk from the effects of high cholesterol and triglyceride levels and inflammation, Dr Marin Strøm at the Statens Serum Institut in Copenhagen said.

In the study, the researchers tracked the heart health of around 49,000 women aged between 15 and 49 over a period of eight years. All women were questioned about their family history, lifestyle and diet, including what types and how often they ate fish.

During the study period, researchers recorded 577 cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, stroke and high blood pressure, five of which resulted in death.

The women who rarely or never ate fish had 50 per cent more cardiovascular problems over the eight years compared with those who ate fish regularly, the study found.

The risk was 90 per cent higher for women who rarely or never ate fish compared with those who ate fish high in omega-3 every week.

The researchers also pointed out that few women in the study took fish oil supplements, and the study findings are based on the intake of omega-3 fatty acids from diet alone.

"To our knowledge this is the first study of this size to focus exclusively on women of childbearing age," said Dr Strøm, who led the study.

"The biggest challenge in getting health messages like this across to younger populations is that usually the benefits may not be evident for 30 or 40 years, but our study shows this is not the case.

"We saw a strong association with cardiovascular disease in the women who were still in their late 30's.

"Our study shows that for younger women, eating fish is very important for overall health, and even though we found cardio-protective effects at relatively modest dietary levels, higher levels may yield additional benefits."

The study findings are published in the journal Hypertension.

This article was published on Wed 7 December 2011

Image © Tomo Jesenicnik - Fotolia.com

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