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Women Can Net the Heart Benefits of Fatty Fish

< Dec. 07, 2011 > -- Consider adding cod and salmon to your weekly meal plan if you're a woman and want to cut your risk for heart disease.

Photo of woman eating fish at a restaurant

These fish and other types rich in omega-3 fatty acids significantly reduced heart disease risk in younger women, according to a study published this week in the journal Hypertension.

Women who frequently ate fish had half the heart disease of women who never ate fish. And women who ate fish weekly gained even more protection against heart disease.

"We found that even women who ate fish only a couple of times a month benefited," says Marin Strom, Ph.D., at the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Unique study

Although previous studies noted that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish promote heart health, they focused on men or older women. "To our knowledge this is the first study of this size that focuses exclusively on women of childbearing age," Dr. Strom says.

The researchers looked at data on nearly 49,000 pregnant women between ages 15 and 47 - the average age was 30 - asking how much fish they ate and how often they ate it. The researchers also recorded information about lifestyle choices and family history of heart disease.

Dr. Strom and her colleagues then followed the women for up to eight years, depending on when the participants were enrolled in the study. In that time, they noted 577 cardiovascular problems, ranging from high blood pressure to stroke, among the participants. Five women died from heart disease.

Greater risk

In general, women who ate little or no fish ended up in the hospital for cardiovascular disease far more often than women who ate fish. And a closer look at a smaller group of women within the participants found that women who passed up fish were three times more likely to develop heart disease than women who ate fish at least once a week.

Gregg Fonarow, M.D., at the University of California, Los Angeles, says the study findings are consistent with other studies in older women and in men.

"This study provides further supporting data that omega-3 fatty acids in the diet or as supplements" are good for the heart and blood vessels, Dr. Fonarow says.

What types of fish are best for your heart? Try salmon, herring, mackerel, trout, and Greenland halibut, Dr. Strom says.

For more information on health and wellness, please visit health information modules on this website.

Fish Prep 101

If you don't have much experience cooking fresh fish, start with an easy variety such as salmon. High in protein and flavor, salmon lends itself to many kinds of preparation, from breakfast as lox on a bagel to an elegant dinner buffet.

Salmon's meaty texture makes it appealing even to finicky fish eaters. Its ease of handling when filleted or cut as steaks means that even first-time cooks can remove bones and skin. Fresh salmon is affordable and available year round because much of it comes from farms. Keep in mind, however, that farm-raised salmon may contain higher amounts of insecticides, pesticides, fungicides, and mercury pollutants than wild salmon.

Cooking fish doesn't have to be complicated. The person who sells it to you may offer suggestions. You can also look online for recipe ideas, or buy one of the many fish and seafood cookbooks available.

Fish is done when it's just beginning to flake and appears opaque at its thickest point. Use the 10-minute rule for baking or oven-roasting a fish: At 450 degrees, cook it for 10 minutes per inch of fish thickness, measured at its thickest point.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Heart Association - Fish 101

American Heart Association - Fish, n-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Diseases in Women of Reproductive Age

National Women's Health Information Center - Fish Facts