Eating oily fish linked to reduced risk of heart attacks and strokes

Could eating oily fish lower the risk of heart attack? (Getty Images)
Could eating oily fish lower the risk of heart attack? (Getty Images)

Eating oily fish can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by balancing the concentration of fats and cholesterol in the blood, new research has revealed.

The study, by researchers from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and Harvard Medical School, found that consuming omega-3, the fatty acids present in fish, can regulate the body’s lipoproteins, the particles that transport lipids, or fat, through the blood, and this in turn can lower the risk of a person suffering cardiovascular problems.

In the largest and most detailed study of its kind, researchers analysed samples taken from 26,034 women using mathematical modelling of the consumption of fish and omega-3, and the profile of lipoproteins.

It had previously been shown that a high consumption of omega-3 fatty acids was associated with lower levels of triglycerides, a type of fat (lipid) found in the blood.

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However, high levels of omega-3 had also been linked to an increase in LDL cholesterol, or low-density cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol.

LDL cholesterol increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases because it can accelerate the formation of atherosclerosis, which is the process by which the arteries harden and lose their elasticity.

But this latest research found that increased consumption of bad cholesterol from fish is primarily associated with the largest LDL particles, which are less likely to cause heart arteries to harden, hence a lower risk of suffering cardiovascular problems.

The research also found a decrease in all of the triglyceride-transporting particles, which is associated with increased protection from cardiovascular illness.

Oily fish contains a high proportion of omega-3. (Getty Images)
Oily fish contains a high proportion of omega-3. (Getty Images)

“Among the LDL particles that transport cholesterol it is the smallest that are associated with a future cardiovascular event,” explains lead author Dr Núria Amigó, CEO of Biosfer Teslab.

The team now hope to carry out further research to establish if the consumption of fish could lead to lower mortality rates from heart disease and stroke.

“Having confirmed that the risk factor associated with lipids, cholesterol concentration, triglycerides and the different subtypes of particles is modulated by the consumption of omega 3 fatty acids, we now need to find out if the consumption of fish is associated with lower mortality from both cardiovascular diseases and other causes,” Dr Amigó adds.

“Although the risk is lower in terms of lipids, we need to look at other pro-inflammatory factors and questions such as exposure to heavy metals.”

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The latest research adds to previous studies which revealed that the omega-3 oil in fish supplements can dramatically reduce the odds of a heart attack.

The study found that heart attack rate in fish oil recipients was 28% lower than among those participants who were given a placebo pill.

And if you needed more reason to up your fish intake, it was previously suggested that oily fish and dairy could help prevent women going through the menopause before the age of 45.

The study of more than 116,000 women found that a high consumption of vitamin D and calcium – found in these foods – cut the risk of early menopause by 17 and 13%.

Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, it analysed data from a long-running study of US nurses who started taking part when they were between the ages of 25 and 42 back in 1989.

Additional reporting SWNS.