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Does fish oil really protect against CVD?

Q - How effective is fish oil in vascular disease?

A - There is a mountain of data to suggest regular

fish oil intake (either as supplements or as food) lowers the risk of arteriosclerotic diseases, specifically coronary heart disease. The story started several decades ago when doctors found Eskimos don't have heart attacks.

Numerous epidemiological studies subsequently confirmed the protective effect and today we even have good data from rigorous clinical trials to demonstrate that fish oil is excellent for prevention of vascular diseases.

The data that suggests substantial risk reduction is based on epidemiological studies and refers not to dosages of supplements but to three meals of fatty fish per week.

Intake should be regular ­ daily, in the case of capsules. The dosage depends on the strength of the capsules, which is variable. Thus followed, the reduction in the risk of vascular disease achieved through such a regimen is substantial, about 50 per cent.

The current advice therefore is to eat two or three fish meals per week. Eat the fish broiled or baked but not fried.

But the wonders of fish oil go far beyond vascular disease. There is, for instance, tantalising evidence that it could be good for depression and even for the IQ of children of fish-consuming mothers.

Edzard Ernst is professor of complementary medicine at the Peninsula Medical School, Exeter

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