Health Fish: a Good Fat Dish

The typical corporate lifestyle is made-to-measure prescription for developing heart disease. The sedentary reality of long hours spent sitting behind desk, combined with the sometimes formidable pressures and stresses of corporate life, and frequent wining and dining in the line of duty, can spell disaster.
The middle-aged executive may be predisposed to litany of heart ills including hypertension, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, clogging of the arteries, and the ultimately feared cardiac event, heart attack.
The good news is that little proactive lifestyle and dietary modification will safeguard your heart health, despite the legacy of corporate living. Weight management, regular aerobic exercise, avoiding cigarette smoking, and dietary modification significantly reduce the likelihood of ending up cardiac statistic.
Any discussion of heart disease and diet usually involves the subject of much maligned dietary fats. The heart foundation “tick” programme and media awareness programmes have created the notion in the popular mind, that all dietary fat is bad fat. The truth is that when it comes to preventing heart disease, not all fats are equal. While minimising saturated fat intake is undoubtedly advisable, the humble fish provides form of dietary fat which has multiple benefits in the fight against heart disease.
Numerous studies have demonstrated the cardiovascular benefits of regular consumption of fish, rich in omega-3 fatty acids. “Oily fish” such as halibut, mackerel, herring, sardines and salmon are particularly rich in the beneficial omega-3 fats known as EPA and DHA.
The American Heart Association strongly endorses fish consumption, recommending that people with no previous cardiovascular history consume fish at least twice weekly. For those with pre-existing heart disease, oily fish is recommended as daily addition to the diet, or the use of fish oil supplements containing at least 900mg of fish oil.
The infamous Harvard Medical School American Physicians Health Study tracked the health of 22,000 male doctors for 20 years. During that time, 94 doctors with no previous diagnosis of heart disease, died from sudden heart attack. Researchers compared the levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the sudden death group, with 180 of the surviving members of the study. On average, the men who died suddenly had lower amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. When the researchers divided all the men into four groups based on concentration of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood, the men in the highest quarter had only fifth of the risk of sudden death as those in the lowest quarter.
The equally infamous Harvard Nurses Health Study, demonstrated similar benefits of regular fish consumption amongst women. The more frequently woman ate fish, the less likely she was to die of heart attack or any other cardiac cause. Those who ate fish once week had 30 percent lower risk of heart attack or death, than those who never ate fish. Interestingly, increasing fish consumption to five servings week only moderately further reduced the risk to 34 percent.
Supplementing with fish oil has been shown to reduce risk of dying amongst people with pre-existing heart disease. The April 2002 edition of the journal Circulation reported an Italian study involving 11,300 patients who had already experienced previous heart attack. They were given either 1000mg of fish oil daily or placebo. During the three-and-a-half-year follow up, those taking fish oil capsules had 45 percent relative risk reduction in sudden cardiac death.
Fish oil appears to improve cardiac health in number of different ways. It helps to keep the heart rhythm regular, as well as making the blood less sticky and prone to clotting. Taken over an extended period of time it reduces the formation of plaques within the arteries, which contribute to the development of high blood pressure and angina. Total concentrations of cholesterol and triglycerides are also reduced without reducing concentrations of beneficial LDL cholesterol.
Studies also indicate that fish oil supplementation or high intake of dietary oily fish is beneficial for diabetics and people suffering from depression. If you are taking blood-thinning medication such as Warfarin, consult with doctor before using fish oil. Supplements are also contraindicated for month prior to surgery, because of their blood thinning effect.
The next time you’re faced with another corporate lunch, why not try the salmon, and do your heart favour? M

Lynda Wharton is Management’s health columnist.
Email: [email protected]

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