How can I reduce the risk of heart disease?
Many listeners have asked: What's the relationship between diet and heart disease?
Chris Smith put this to University of Cambridge's James Rudd...
James - So again, it’s a really good question and very topical at the moment. There are three or four different types of dietary fat and Elizabeth is referring to what we call polyunsaturated fats - omega-3 and omega-6 being the main ones that we consume. Long-term studies of something called the Mediterranean diet, which takes advantage of the fact that people in southern France, southern Italy, and Spain have less heart disease than people in the north of Europe. They seem to consume a lot more oily fish, and oily fish such as salmon, fresh tuna, mackerel, herring, etc. are very rich in omega-3 and this has been shown to be a significant factor in reducing the incidence of heart disease.
Now, the second question, which I am often asked in my outpatient clinic, is can I take supplements. I don’t like oily fish, can I take pills - omega-3 pills - instead of eating oily fish? The answer is: it’s fairly clear that supplements are not as good as eating the fish itself. For vegetarians out there, there are other options that contain omega-3, such as flax is one that is well recommended and that seems to have some beneficial effect.
Chris - Do you believe this or do you think it’s just people who don’t eat fish in their diet probably don’t eat other things that are also positive in terms of their impact on your health and so we’re attributing that to a lack of fish or omega-3 fatty acids and its other health effects?
James - The studies have actually been fairly rigorous and they have controlled for other areas of the diet that might be deficient. And the recommendation from societies like the British Heart Foundation, which is leading in this area, is that we should eat oily fish twice a week and one of the portions should be around 140 grams, and that does have a very positive, beneficial effect on reducing the chance of heart disease.
Chris - Good for brain development as well, I’ve heard. Is that true?
James - I believe so, yes. At a much earlier age, obviously than we’re talking about preventing heart attacks but, yes, I think there is an effect there as well.