Alice Lichtenstein, director and senior scientist at the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston, emphasized that although the research noted an association, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.
"The results of this study support a relationship between higher fish intake and lower risk of total mortality, particularly death from coronary heart disease," said Lichtenstein, who was not involved in the study.
The researchers, however, cannot determine whether the omega-3 levels were directly responsible for the reduced risk of death or simply a marker for a healthier lifestyle, she cautioned.
For instance, those who had the highest levels of omega-3 also ate more vegetables and fruit than those in the lower level groups, Lichtenstein said, which suggests that simply taking a fish oil supplement may not produce the same effects.
The American Heart Association recommends eating two 3.5-ounce servings of fatty fish, such as salmon, each week.
If you're currently not a fish eater, don't despair. "Going from zero to some intake seems to be where you get most of the benefit for your blood levels," Mozaffarian said.
The study was funded primarily by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Mozaffarian reported funding from Sigma Tau Pharmaceuticals, Pronova BioPharma (now BASF) and GlaxoSmithKline for studies he initiated on omega-3s.
To learn more about omega-3s in your diet, visit the American Heart Association.
SOURCES: Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor, epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston; Alice Lichtenstein, D.Sc., Gershoff Professor of Nutrition Science and Policy, and dir
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