If you’re concerned about your heart health, you might want to consider having fish for dinner. New research finds older adults with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids — most commonly found in fish — are less likely to later develop an irregular heartbeat than their peers with the lowest amounts.
In a 14-year study, U.S. researchers sampled blood from more than 3,300 adults over the age of 65 to track the participants’ health, and found that 789 developed atrial fibrillation, more commonly referred to as an irregular heartbeat.
But those with the top 25 percent omega-3 levels in their bloodstreams at the beginning of the study were about 30 percent less likely to end up with a heart arrhythmia compared to those with the bottom 25 percent blood levels. Those numbers mean that instead of 25 out of every 100 people developing a condition, only about 17 of every 100 would.
It’s estimated by some that up to nine percent of Americans will develop atrial fibrillation — which can lead to stroke and heart failure — by the time they reach their 80s.
“A 30 percent lower risk of the most common chronic arrhythmia in the United States population is a pretty big effect,” senior study author Dariush Mozaffarian, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, told Reuters Health.
The omega-3 fatty acids measured in the study, published in the journal Circulation, were eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosapentaenoic acid (DPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). They are found in oily fish, some enriched foods — like eggs — and in fish oil supplements.
Alvaro Alonso, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study, said that while the research didn’t prove eating fish is responsible for the lower rate of atrial fibrillation, the fatty acids found in fish could work by stabilizing the excitability of heart muscle cells.