Who Knew Eating Fish Had This Effect?

Eat fish and you're less likely to die from a sudden heart attack.

People who dine on fish regularly have lower heart rates and that helps prevent sudden death from a heart attack, according to new research from the Institut Pasteur de Lille in France reported by the Ivanhoe Newswire. Sudden death or cardiac arrest happens when the heart stops unexpectedly. The secret heart-healthy ingredient is omega-3 fatty acids, which is found in abundance in cold-water fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, and tuna.

The study: More than 9,700 men, who ranged in age between 50 and 59 and had no signs of heart disease, participated in the French study. The researchers followed them from 1991 to 1993, keeping records of their heart rate, blood pressure, and cholesterol. The men also completed questionnaires about their use of tobacco and alcohol, as well as exercise and diet, including how often they ate fish. A subgroup of 407 men also got blood tests to assess fatty acid levels.

The results: The men who ate fish twice a week or more had the lowest heart rates, averaging 65.5 beats per minute. This compares to 67.5 beats per minute for men who ate fish less than once a week. Why does heart rate matter? Lead researcher Jean Dallongeville says even small reductions in heart rate can make a big difference in the risk for sudden heart death. "These findings are particularly important because sudden death most often occurs in men without a known history of coronary heart disease," Dallongeville told Ivanhoe Newswire.

But there is a puzzler in all this: How the fatty acids reduce heart problems isn't clear. Dallongeville theorizes that the fatty acids stabilize the electrical activity of the heart's cells, which in turn lowers the heart rate. They may also assist with pumping action and blood pressure. The fish eaters had lower triglycerides, lower blood pressure, and higher levels of the "good" cholesterol.

The study findings were published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.