Fish Is Health Insurance
Eat fish! You’ve heard it before, but now the case is so compelling that you absolutely must pay attention or face overwhelming health risks. Fish’s secret is its unique oil (omega-3 fatty acids), which is essential for proper cell functioning. But most us get only 15% of the omega-3 we need.
Here’s the latest research on fish oil’s life-saving potential:
– Men: Drop-dead protection. More than 250,000 Americans die suddenly of heart attacks every year; half have no warning signs. Yet, eating fatty fish could stop an astonishing 80% of such deaths in men, says new Harvard research involving 22,000 male physicians. It’s the first time fish oil has been found to save lives in people with no history of heart disease. Men with the highest blood omega-3 fats had the lowest risk, because fish oil prevents the irregular heartbeats that trigger instant death in heart attacks.
– Women: Heart attack antidote. The more often women eat fish, the less likely they are to have a heart attack or die of a “cardiac event,” says other Harvard research, tracking 85,000 female nurses. Eating fish only once a week cut heart attack risk by 29%; the figure jumped to 34% in women who ate fish five times a week. Researchers credit the omega-3 fat in fish.
– Cuts strokes. Fish was even more dramatic in preventing strokes in the nurses. Women who ate fish more than five times a week suffered half as many strokes as occasional fish eaters, primarily strokes due to blood clots. Like aspirin, omega-3 oils discourage clots and have anti-inflammatory action.
– Cancer block. New French research has found that women with the highest omega-3s in breast fatty tissue were nearly 70% less apt to have breast cancer than women with the least omega-3s. In a new Swedish study, women who ate fatty fish twice a week cut their risk of endometrial cancer by 40%, compared with women who ate fatty fish less than once a month. The same Swedish investigators found prostate cancer rates were two or three times higher in non-fish eaters than in men who ate moderate or high amounts.
– Brain food. Fish eaters are less apt be depressed, violent, suicidal and antisocial. Probable reason: Omega-3 boosts serotonin, the brain’s feel-good chemical. Eating fatty fish also may help prevent and treat Alzheimer’s disease, says Canadian researcher Julie Conquer. She found low omega-3s in elderly people who were intellectually impaired or diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Fish oil is essential for fetal and infant brains; in Danish research, pregnant women who ate fish once a week cut their risk of premature delivery by a third.
Tips: fish and cooking for the greatest omega-3 benefit
Buy the fattiest fish. Try mackerel, anchovies, herring, sardines, salmon, tuna and turbot. Frozen and canned are OK, the USDA says. Eat enough. Daily, if you eat 2,000 calories, get at least 650 milligrams of omega-3, experts say.
A week’s quota might be ONE of these:
- 6 ounces fresh mackerel*
10 ounces canned sardines
11 ounces pickled herring
12 ounces fresh salmon*
13 ounces canned salmon
14 ounces fresh tuna*
24 ounces canned albacore tuna
* weight before cooking
Cook correctly. Deep-frying destroys the benefits. Best cooking methods: bake, broil, poach, steam, stir-fry, saute or stew.
Cut back on bad fats. They neutralize omega-3s. Restrict trans fats (margarines, processed foods) and omega-6 fats (corn oil, regular safflower or sunflower oils, soybean oil). Use olive oil and canola oil.
Get the right ratio. It’s critical that the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 be no more than 1:4. Most Americans’ ratio is about 1:15.
Don’t eat fish? Take fish oil capsules. If you’re on medication, or taking fish oil for a specific problem, check with a doctor first. OK on your own: 800-1,000mg of omega-3 supplements daily.
Caution: Pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children should avoid eating shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, which may contain high levels of mercury.
SCIENTIFIC SOURCES FOR THIS ARTICLE
Heart attacks in men
– Albert CH. New England Journal of Medicine 2002; 346(15): 1113-8
Heart attacks in women
– Hu, FB, et al. JAMA 2002; 287 (14): 1815-21
– Iso, H., et al.JAMA, 2001, Jan 17; 285(:304-312)
– Maillard V. Int J Cancer 2002 Mar 1;98(1): 78-83
– Terry P. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev 2002 Jan; 11(1): 143-45
– Terry P. Lancet 2001 Jun 2:357(9279): 1764-6
Fish oil capsules and sudden cardiac deaths<BR> — Marchioli, Roberto, et al. Circulation 2002;105:1897-1903
– Professor Lawrie Beilin, University of Western Australia
– Policy statement of ISFFAL, 1999, International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids
– Conquer JA, Lipids 2000 Dec; 35(12): 1305-12
– Olsen SF. BMJ 2002;324:1-5
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This EatSmart column is reprinted from USAWEEKEND Magazine and is copyrighted by Jean Carper. It cannot be reprinted without permission from Jean Carper.
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Article updated on: July 7th, 2002