Fishing for better health? Two servings of oily fish weekly lowers cardiovascular disease risk

HAMILTON, Ontario — Tuna on Tuesday. Salmon on Saturday. If fish is a favorite menu item, you have new reasons to enjoy it. A recent study by McMaster University involving participants from 60 countries finds that eating oily fish twice weekly can protect against cardiovascular disease in high-risk individuals.

It is the omega-3 fatty acids in fish that make the difference. Researchers found that high-risk individuals who consumed two servings a week of fish rich in omega-3 lowered their risk of heart attacks and strokes by about a sixth (roughly 16%) compared with those who did not eat oily fish.

“There is a significant protective benefit of fish consumption in people with cardiovascular disease,” says lead co-author Andrew Mente, associate professor of research methods, evidence, and impact at McMaster, in a statement.

Researchers say that while people at low risk for cardiovascular disease may get some protection by eating oily fish, the positive impact of consuming omega-3 is greater for high-risk individuals.

For their research, authors considered data from four previous studies conducted over 25 years. Of the 192,000 international participants, about one-quarter (52,000) had cardiovascular disease. Previous studies have been limited to certain geographical regions (North America, Europe, China and Japan). This study, however, is the first to include participants from all five continents.

Study authors point to the global implications of their inclusive findings.

“This is by far the most diverse study of fish intake and health outcomes in the world and the only one with sufficient numbers with representation from high, middle and low income countries from all inhabited continents of the world,” claims study coauthor Dr. Salim Yusuf, professor of medicine at the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

If this study inspires you to add fish to the menu, it is important to know the difference between oily fish and whitefish so you can maximize your omega-3 intake. Oily fish has oil well distributed throughout the body tissues and in the belly cavity, making it the best source of omega-3. Catch some trout, salmon, sardines, anchovies, pilchards, kippers, eels, whitebait, mackerel, herring or tuna for the highest levels of omega-3.

And remember that while oily fish and whitefish are both great sources of lean, tasty protein, whitefish offers very little omega-3. Keep that in mind if you dine on these whitefish: cod, snapper, grouper, haddock, flounder, pollock, bass or halibut.

“This study has important implications for guidelines on fish intake globally,” concludes Mente. “It indicates that increasing fish consumption and particularly oily fish in vascular patients may produce a modest cardiovascular benefit.

Study findings are published in JAMA Internal Medicine.