Although regular consumption of fish and fish oils is beneficial to the heart, their effect on the health of postmenopausal women is not yet clear. Taking a step in this direction, a large-scale study was recently conducted to assess the association between the risk of heart failure and fish consumption in postmenopausal women. The study involved 84,493 women at the menopausal age of 50-79 years, whose fish intakes were correlated with incidence of heart failure. It was found that regular intake of baked or broiled fish reduced the risk of heart failure in these women, while consumption of fried fish subjected them to a greater risk of heart failure.
More than five million citizens of the United States suffer heart failure and at least one in five is at a potential risk of being affected by heart failure during their lifetime. It is also known that among older women who are in menopause, those belonging to ethnic or racial minorities are at a higher risk of heart failure. It is speculated that changes in diet and supplementation with nutrients may help in prevention of heart failure, but there are no concrete studies to substantiate this belief. Studies have shown that fish oils containing omega 3 fatty acids, such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in baked and broiled fish, are beneficial to the heart. This study attempted to look at the benefits of these oils in terms of reduction of incidence of heart failure in post-menopausal women.
- This study was performed on 84,493 women who were aged between 50 and 79, and had reached menopause. These women belonged to different racial and ethnic groups.
- All women were questioned about their consumption of baked and/or broiled fish, fried fish and omega-3- fatty acids such as EPA, DHA, ALA (alpha linoleic acid) and TFA (trans fatty acids).
- The association between the incidence of heart failure and high consumption of baked/broiled fish and fried fish was assessed using “Cox models adjusting for HF risk factors and dietary factor”.
- Results showed that women who consumed high amounts of baked or broiled fish had a lower incidence of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity. These women exercised regularly, ate more fruits and vegetables and had a healthier diet when compared to those who consumed higher amounts of fried fish.
- It was also found that those with a higher intake of fried fish tended to smoke more, were less educated, and failed to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
- Women who consumed baked/broiled fish less than once per month and fried fish more that once a week faced a 2.3 times higher risk of getting a heart failure compared to those who consumed baked/broiled fish less than once a week and the fried variety less than once a month.
- Supplementation and intake of EPA, DHA, ALA, and TFA were not associated with a lowered risk of heart failure.
The authors of the present study admit that the questionnaire given to the women for recording their food habits did not assess the method in which the fish was fried. They also admit that there were other contributing factors, such as more exercise and intake of fruits and vegetables, in the baked/broiled fish group. This could have led to lower rates of heart failure. They further suggest well-designed clinical trials to find the exact benefits of baked and broiled fish intake in the prevention of heart failure.
This study confirmed that women, who have reached menopause, may benefit from a high intake of broiled or baked fish, and will have lesser chances of heart failure. On the other hand, consuming too much of fried fish may increase the risk of heart failure in this population. Earlier studies have already shown that omega 3 fatty acids like DHA, EPA, ALA and TFA benefit the heart. However, this study and all previous studies have failed to estimate their role in the prevention of heart failure. The authors of this study suggest future investigations to establish a clear connection between the consumption of fish/fatty acid and the “risk for incident heart failure.”
For More Information:
Fish Intake and the Risk of Incident Heart Failure: the Women’s Health Initiative
Publication Journal: Journal of the American Heart Association, May 2011
By Rashad Belin, PhD; Philip Greenland, MD
From the Department of Preventive medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois
*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.