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Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements
In a very interesting study, James O'Keefe and his colleagues studied whether Omega-3 fatty acid supplements would have a direct effect on the heart. They gave either placebo or Omega-3 fatty acids to 18 men who had previously had heart attack and decreased function of the heart.
How can I get omega-3 fatty acids if I don't like fish?
One reason people don't like fish is due to the poor quality of fish that they have had in the past. Starting with a mildly-flavored fish like sole or tilapia and purchasing it as fresh as possible from a really reputable shop may help you learn to enjoy it.
Omega-3 fatty acids good for your bones
By now you know that polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-3 fatty acids, can help reduce your risk of heart disease. A lesser known type of polyunsaturated fatty acids are the omega-6 fatty acids. Emerging research suggests that it's not just the amount of omega-3s in your diet, but also the ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s that is important.
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The research on supplements has been very disappointing so far. We know for instance, that eating foods rich in Vitamin C will prevent disease but taking Vitamin C supplements doesn't have the same effect. A recent study showed similar findings with both antioxidant supplements and Vitamin B.
One place we know that taking supplements helps is with Omega-3 fats in the form of fish oil. It's clear that eating fish high in these fats prevents sudden death but taking supplements may be almost as good. The interesting thing is how powerful this is when compared to state of the art technology.
Thomas Kottke and his colleagues compared taking Omega-3 supplements with two different types of defibrillators (Am J Prev Med 2006;31(4):316-323). One type of device is the kind that you see at airports and shopping malls and are made available so that bystanders can administer the type of shock to reset heart rhythm. These are called Automatic External Defibrillators (AED). They are used in cases where people collapse in public spaces. The other type (an ICD) is a similar device that delivers a shock to the heart but is implanted in people who meet criteria for being at high risk.
In a model community of 100,000 people the researchers found that by everyone taking fish oil supplements the risk of sudden death would be reduced by 6.4%. Providing appropriate numbers of AED and ICD only reduced the risk by 0.8% and 3.3% respectively.
At the same time there was an amazing difference in the estimate of the cost to the community of the three interventions, with the fish oil costing only 5.8 million dollars per year while each of the defibrillators would cost 21 million dollars per year. That's four times the cost to have the devices available at less than half of the lives saved. They scientists do mention that if the community simply ate fish two or more times per week there would be an insignificant increase in the amount of money needed to save lives.
Eating fish is good for you and dramatically reduces your risk of sudden death and the need for a defibrillator. Cheap, tasty, saves lives? That's a good public policy.
First posted: November 17, 2006