eating fish can reduce risk of heart disease

Researchers recently investigated if eating fish can reduce risk of heart disease, and why this may be the case.

Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women worldwide. It is estimated that 17.9 million lives are lost each year to heart disease. Heart disease occurs when plaque made of fat, cholesterol, and other waste products builds up in the bloodstream. The plaque attaches to artery walls and eventually leads to a narrowing (or hardening) of the artery itself called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke.

Diet and exercise are two of the main methods used to fight atherosclerosis. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids helps lower the risk of heart disease by increasing the amount of good fats and cholesterol in the bloodstream. Fish are high in omega-3 acids and are recommended as part of a heart-healthy diet. Omega-3 supplements can also be taken to reduce risk.
Researchers from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) and Harvard Medical School investigated the mechanisms through which omega-3 fatty acids from fish reduce the risk of heart disease. The study was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

The study analyzed 26,034 women. The participants provided dietary information in a 131-item questionnaire and gave blood samples. Scientists measured the levels of good and bad cholesterol, lipoproteins, and triglycerides in the blood. This data was compared to the amount and types of omega-3s in the diet and whether the omega-3s were from fish or from supplements. 

The study found that eating fish can reduce risk of heart disease. Eating more fish lowered the levels of triglycerides and increased the levels of good cholesterol. When the level of omega-3s came from eating fish, not from taking supplements, the amount of bad cholesterol increased, but the increase was in the size of the bad cholesterol particles, not the total amount of bad cholesterol. This decreased the number of harmful triglycerides in the bloodstream, leading to better heart health.

Three specific omega-3 fatty acids were studied. Each one affected the risk of heart disease differently. Researchers hope to perform future studies on these components to better understand their benefit to heart health. 

Written by Rebecca K. Blankenship, B.Sc.


1. Amigó N, Akinkuolie A, Chiuve S, Correig X, Cook N, Mora S. Habitual Fish Consumption, n‐3 Fatty Acids, and Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Lipoprotein Subfractions in Women. J Am Heart Assoc. 2020;9(5). doi:10.1161/jaha.119.014963

2. Cardiovascular diseases. Published 2020. Accessed May 26, 2020.

3. What Is Arterial Plaque?. The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions. Published 2020. Accessed May 26, 2020.

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