The old wives have been proved right yet again. They believed that a regular dose of cod liver oil would be good for what ailed you.
Cod liver oil isn’t fashionable any longer, but cutting edge research has just shown that omega-3 fats in fish oil can keep both men and women from dropping dead suddenly. In the same week, three of the country’s most prestigious medical journals published separate studies demonstrating the same basic conclusion: people who get more fish oil are less likely to die of a heart attack.
The New England Journal of Medicine (April 11, 2002) reported that men with the highest blood levels of fats derived from fish oil “had an 81 percent lower risk of sudden death.”
A different study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (April 10, 2002) noted that women who eat a lot of fish (at least five times a week) were 50 percent less likely to die suddenly of a heart attack.
The American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation (April 8, 2002) noted that people who suffered a recent heart attack were only half as likely to die suddenly of a second cardiac event if they were taking a supplement containing one gram of fish oil a day.
These findings are not a complete surprise. Evidence that fish oil protects the heart has been accumulating for decades. Over 30 years ago Danish doctors reported that Greenland Eskimos had very low rates of heart disease. They concluded that the Eskimo diet, rich in fish, was responsible.
A 20-year-long Dutch study demonstrated that men who ate fish regularly, even as little as an ounce a day, were only half as likely to die of a heart attack as men who ate no fish. And a study in Oregon found that fish oil could lower blood fats, especially triglycerides and cholesterol.
At least 16 years ago, research published in The New England Journal of Medicine demonstrated the protective power of cod liver oil in pig arteries. The scientists studied pigs because they are, like humans, susceptible to clogged arteries on a high-fat diet. Those who were given cod liver oil came out with very little atherosclerosis.
Cod liver oil may not be the best source of omega-3 fatty acids, however. Scandinavian researchers have found that the large amount of vitamin A in cod liver oil increases the risk for osteoporosis and fractures.
But there are alternatives to cod liver oil. The critical components, EPA (eicosopentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexanoic acid), are found in a number of dietary supplements.
One of the more interesting aspects of the three recent research reports was the finding that fish oil may stabilize the electrical activity of heart cells. This lowers the risk of potentially life-threatening heart rhythm disturbances.
Fish oil has this powerful effect in addition to its ability to lower cholesterol and triglycerides, discourage blood clots and reduce inflammation. Inflammation is now thought to play a crucial role in heart disease.
Although many physicians are still uncomfortable recommending dietary supplements, the research is now clear. People who don’t like fish may wish to consider taking a fish oil supplement.

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