March 10, 1999
NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- The Mediterranean diet has long been touted for its health benefits, and a newly completed study points to one component of that diet -- fish oil -- as especially beneficial to heart patients.
The study by Italian doctors of more than 11,000 heart attack victims showed they reduced their risk of dying from heart disease by 15 percent if they took fish oil supplements.
The researchers presented their findings Tuesday at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology in New Orleans.
"We are showing a benefit (from fish oil) on top of the protective effect of the Mediterranean diet, so the message should be even clearer," said Dr. Gianni Tognoni, one of the doctors involved in the study.
But do you need to take a supplement, or can you just eat fish? Doctors say the amount of fish you would have to eat each day might be a little more than most people could tolerate, therefore supplements work best.
The subjects in the study were divided into four groups. One control group got dummy pills, another got one gram of fish oil a day, a third group got vitamin E and a fourth group got fish oil and vitamin E.
The two fish oil groups saw their risk of dying of heart disease over 3-1/2 years reduced by 15 percent.
"Vitamin E came out not statistically significant," Tognoni said.
All of the patients were following directions to eat a more healthful diet -- which means adding plenty of fruits and vegetables and cutting fat -- and exercising, Tognoni said. They were also trying to eat fish instead of meat twice a week.
The patients also received medication for heart attack patients, including anti-clotting drugs, beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors.
Tognoni said it is not fully understood why fish oil, which contains omega-3 fatty acids, benefits heart patients.
He said there is some evidence the fatty acids work on the inside lining of blood vessels, which become clogged with fatty plaques in heart disease.
Other good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are canola oil, flaxseed and flaxseed oil.
Health Correspondent Holly Firfer Reuters contributed to this report.
Research points to 'Mediterranean' diet to help prevent repeat heart attack
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