Fish oil is effective against cardiac arrest

According to the medical journal The Lancet, a German study can lead the way to using fish oil as a harmless and more savoury alternative to traditional heart medicine.

If cardiac atherosclerosis is the cause of death, then, in every other case, death occurs as unpremeditated cardiac arrest and the person affected will simply fall to the ground. In approximately every other one of these cases, the cardiac arrest is both the first and last symptom of the disease, and a blood clot is often the triggering factor.

In an interesting study, doctors of the Munich University Hospital have demonstrated that fish oil is supposedly to a very lage extent capable of preventing these cases of cardiac arrest. This took place in an experiment with ten patients suffering from heart problems who all had a high risk of dying of their disease and for that reason had had a defibrillator surgically implanted; this device is capable of re-vitalizing the heart if it stops.

The experiment was supposed to examine whether fish oil can protect against the rhythm disturbances that can lead to cardiac arrest and death. All ten patients were predisposed to attacks in which the heart beats with up to 200 beats per minute. This is very often a premonitory symptom of so-called ventricular fibrillation which is the cause of almost all cases of cardiac arrest. In ventricular fibrillation, the cardiac action is transformed into a very fast but weak tremble.

In the German study, the hazardous rhythm disturbances to which the patients were predisposed were stimulated with electrical impulses. As expected, provoking the attacks were an easy task. In three out of the seven, however, they did not succeed, and it turned out that - contrary to the other seven - they were used to eating fish 2 - 3 times a week. The other seven people had triggered attacks which were interrupted by the defibrillator.

The sensational thing about this was that after having been given fish oil as intravenous transfusions, it was impossible to provoke attacks in now five out of the seven patients! Left were only two patients who apparently were not protected by fish oil. Despite the infusion (equalling 12 g. of ordinary fish oil), one of them had a very low blood level of fish oil.

In total, eight out of the ten patients were so effectively protected by fatty fish or fish oil that provoking the deadly attacks in them was impossible. However, this German study is only a pilot study. Larger and more thorough studies must succeed in order for the effect to be considered reliable.

The result matches other findings from very large studies. The most famous one is the Italian GISSI study from 1999; a randomized trial with 10,000 men who had recently survived a cardiac thrombosis. It stated with great certainty that taking fish oil supplements resulted in a total reduction in mortality of 20% and a reduction in the risk of sudden cardiac death of more than 50%.

According to the editorial commentary of the magazine, the German study that was published in The Lancet can lead the way to using fish oil as a safe and more appetizing alternative to traditional heart medicine. First and foremost, fish oil can substantially reduce the danger of having a cardiac thrombosis!

1. Albert C. Fish oil - an appetising alternative to anti-arrhytmic drugs?
Lancet 2004;363:1412-3.
2. Schrepf R et al. Immediate effects of n-3 fatty acid infusion on the induction of sustained ventricular tachycardia. Lancet 2004;363:1441-2.