Fried Herrings – Are They Really Good For The Heart?

March 15, 2005

An American study says that you can avoid heart flutter (atrial fibrillation) by eating fatty fish. Danish researchers have come to the exact opposite conclusion. Is that because the Danes like fried fish?

An American study concludes that you can avoid atrial fibrillation by eating fatty fish. Danish researchers have come to the exact opposite conclusion.

In the summer of 2004, researchers at Harvard University in Boston published an article stating that if you eat lots of fatty fish, your risk of atrial fibrillation will be reduced.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common cause of irregular heartbeat that will occur in a large number of elderly people and will require lifelong anticoagulant treatment.

To be precise, the American researchers had found that the risk of atrial fibrillation was reduced by 35% in people who consumed fatty fish at least five times a week and by 24% in the ones who consumed fatty fish 1 – 3 times a month – compared to people who only ate fish very rarely.

However, the matter is more complex than that: In January 2005, two Danish doctors published an article stating that a large consumption of fatty fish increases the risk of atrial fibrillation. They found the risk to be increased by 44% in the 20% who consumed the most fatty fish compared to the 20% who consumed the least.

Were do we go from that, then? If we take a rough average of the two studies, it will indicate that it does not matter whether or not you eat fatty fish.

But why are the results so conflicting? If we move below the surface, it turns out that the two studies are very different.

The American study included 5000 trial subjects with an average age of 73 years. The Danish study included 50,000 trial subjects with an average age that was 18 years less than the American study, i.e. 55 years.

Almost every fifth of the old Americans suffered atrial fibrillation during the 12-year duration of the American study. In comparison, the same was true for less than 2% of the Danes during the 6-year duration of the Danish study.

In total, the Americans observed more than twice as many trial subjects with atrial fibrillation compared to the Danes (980 and 456, respectively).

Frying distorts the fish oil
How were the person with atrial fibrillation indentified? The American trial subjects went through a cardiac examination every year in which all cases of atrial fibrillation were discovered. Contrary to this, information about the health state of the Danes was solely obtained from the hospitals – it was obviously assumed that all the trial subjects who had suffered atrial fibrillation had been hospitalized.

This discrepancy involves some uncertainty: Even though most trial subjects with atrial fibrillation were hospitalized, it is far from certain that this applied to everyone. Atrial fibrillation can very well be treated by a GP.

It was particularly important that the Americans observed that there is difference in the effect of fried fish and other kinds of fish. Fried fatty fish slightly increased the risk while non-fried (fatty) fish decreased the risk. Fried fatty fish neither increased the blood levels of fish oil (N-3 fatty acids) as non-fried fish does.

The Danish study does not explain how the fish were prepared. There was no distinguishing.

None of the studies explained how many and who took fish oil supplements: In the Danish study the trial subjects had not been given this question and in the American study, the information apparently did not alter the overall result.

To conclude: A detailed and precise American study has established that fatty fish reduces the risk of atrial fibrillation by approximately 33%.
A less detailed Danish study has established the opposite.

However, the size of the study is hardly decisive. It is probably more essential to pay some attention to how the fish was prepared. Fish oil is destroyed by high temperatures which, more or less, transforms the N-3 fatty acids into N-6 fatty acids, transfatty acids, and harmful oxidation products.

The American group has recently published some more news: Fatty fish – that has not been fried – reduces the risk of cerebral haemorrhage to approximately the same degree as is the case with atrial fibrillation. Fatty fish, on the other hand, increases this risk!

By: Vitality Council

1. Dariush Mozaffarian et al. Fish intake and risk of incident atrial fibrillation. Circulation 2004;116:368-73.
2. n-3 Fatty acids consumed from fish and risk of atrial fibrillation or flutter : The Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr 2005;81:50-4
3. Mozaffarian D et al. Fish consumption and stroke risk in elderly individuals: the cardiovascular health study. Arch Intern Med 2005 Jan 24;165(2):200-6.

Decisive Agreement About Fish Oil Has Now Been Reached

January 10, 2005

For the first time, there is agreement about chronic lack of fish oil increasing the risk of coronary heart disease. An official American report sets a recommended intake for all adults.

It looks like there is now decisive agreement among experts that there is a connection between coronary heart disease and a chronic lack of the fatty acids in fish oil. This is the conclusion of a report published in Current Atherosclerosis Reports which was prepared at the request of the federal health authorities of the USA.

According to the report, the indications for a connection between a lack of fatty acids and death caused by coronary heart disease have become stronger year by year. It is the two N-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) that are significant. According to the report, DHA and EPA have “clear heart-protective effects.”

It also states that both national American and international experts now recommend larger intakes of N-3 fatty acids. The recommended daily intake is 450 mg. a day (EPA + DHA), but for persons with recognized coronary heart disease, the recommendation is 1000 mg. a day. This equals 1.5 g. of ordinary fish oil for healthy persons and 3 g. in case of heart disease, respectively; this is half the contents of a concentrated fish oil capsule.

The report underlines that according to both cellular- and animal tests, the N-3 fatty acids are capable of preventing irregular heartbeat and that this has now also been confirmed in tests on humans; this fact is also mentioned elsewhere on this site. In particular, the fatty acids can counteract the extremely common and often uncomfortable atrial fibrillation. All in all, the risk of death as a result of coronary heart disease is reduced by 25% when taking sufficient amounts of fish oil, as mentioned.

The strength of this evidence is now so comprehensive that the report encourages measuring people’s blood content of fatty acids just as measuring the blood pressure, checking the cholesterol, etc. is being done at present to estimate the risk of coronary heart disease. Likewise, it is now appreciated that it must become a national priority to see to it that everyone gets a sufficient intake of fish oil.

By: Vitality Council

Harris WS. Are omega-3 fatty acids the most important nutritional modulators of coronary heart disease risk? Curr atheroscler Rep. 2004;6:447-52.

Dangerous to Stop Taking Fish Oil!

September 8, 2004

Recent media reports have been saying that, according to a Danish study, fish oil does not prevent cardial arrythmia. Many have gotten the impression that fish oil does not at all benefit the heart. This is very wrong! Considering the many who take fish oil for the health of their heart, it is of utmost importance that this mistake be corrected, as it may be dangerous to stop supplementing with fish oil!

By: Vitality Council

1) Albert C. Fish oil – an appetising alternative to anti-arrhytmic drugs? Lancet 2004;363:1412-3.
2) Schrepf, R et al. Immediate effects of n-3 fatty acid infusion on the induction of sustained ventricular tachycardia. Lancet 2004;363:1441-2.

Fish Oil is Effective Against Cardiac Arrest (Heart Failure)

July 7. 2004

With an interesting study doctors from the University Hospital of München have shown that fish oil may very likely prevent incidents of heart failure considerably.

According to the medical journal The Lancet, a German study can lead the way to using fish oil as a harmless and more savoury alternative to traditional heart medicine.

If cardiac atherosclerosis is the cause of death, then, in every other case, death occurs as unpremeditated cardiac arrest and the person affected will simply fall to the ground. In approximately every other one of these cases, the cardiac arrest is both the first and last symptom of the disease, and a blood clot is often the triggering factor.

In an interesting study, doctors of the Munich University Hospital have demonstrated that fish oil is supposedly to a very lage extent capable of preventing these cases of cardiac arrest. This took place in an experiment with ten patients suffering from heart problems who all had a high risk of dying of their disease and for that reason had had a defibrillator surgically implanted; this device is capable of re-vitalizing the heart if it stops.

The experiment was supposed to examine whether fish oil can protect against the rhythm disturbances that can lead to cardiac arrest and death. All ten patients were predisposed to attacks in which the heart beats with up to 200 beats per minute. This is very often a premonitory symptom of so-called ventricular fibrillation which is the cause of almost all cases of cardiac arrest. In ventricular fibrillation, the cardiac action is transformed into a very fast but weak tremble.

In the German study, the hazardous rhythm disturbances to which the patients were predisposed were stimulated with electrical impulses. As expected, provoking the attacks were an easy task. In three out of the seven, however, they did not succeed, and it turned out that – contrary to the other seven – they were used to eating fish 2 – 3 times a week. The other seven people had triggered attacks which were interrupted by the defibrillator.

The sensational thing about this was that after having been given fish oil as intravenous transfusions, it was impossible to provoke attacks in now five out of the seven patients! Left were only two patients who apparently were not protected by fish oil. Despite the infusion (equalling 12 g. of ordinary fish oil), one of them had a very low blood level of fish oil.

In total, eight out of the ten patients were so effectively protected by fatty fish or fish oil that provoking the deadly attacks in them was impossible. However, this German study is only a pilot study. Larger and more thorough studies must succeed in order for the effect to be considered reliable.

The result matches other findings from very large studies. The most famous one is the Italian GISSI study from 1999; a randomized trial with 10,000 men who had recently survived a cardiac thrombosis. It stated with great certainty that taking fish oil supplements resulted in a total reduction in mortality of 20% and a reduction in the risk of sudden cardiac death of more than 50%.

According to the editorial commentary of the magazine, the German study that was published in The Lancet can lead the way to using fish oil as a safe and more appetizing alternative to traditional heart medicine. First and foremost, fish oil can substantially reduce the danger of having a cardiac thrombosis!

By: Vitality Council


1. Albert C. Fish oil – an appetising alternative to anti-arrhytmic drugs? Lancet 2004;363:1412-3.
2. Schrepf R et al. Immediate effects of n-3 fatty acid infusion on the induction of sustained ventricular tachycardia. Lancet 2004;363:1441-2.

Fish Oil for the Heart

March 7, 2003

Essential oils in fish oil can prevent heart disease in elderly people. Quite many consumers and doctors have good experiences with this, but now it has also been confirmed by a study, recently published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The trial included 360 persons at the age of 65, and the researchers found that a high concentration of the fatty acids DHA and EPA is associated with a lower risk of dying of blood clots in the heart.

“Again, this is a good example of a preventive measure with natural substances such as fish oil, pays off” says Claus Hancke, chairman of the Vitality Council.

By Vitality Council

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 77, No. 2, 319-325, February 2003.

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Joseph E. Pizzorno Jr., Michael T. Murrey & Melvyn R. Werbach.