Staying Healthy Newsletter - Young hearts & omega-3s; Antioxidants & Stroke Risk; Diet & genetic risk of AMD
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Young hearts & omega-3s; Antioxidants & Stroke Risk; Diet & genetic risk of AMD

Omega-3s & Heart Health in Young Women

The cardiovascular health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids are well-documented in men and older men and women. But whether a fish-rich diet is important for heart health in younger women is an area that – until recently – has received little attention.

Now, the first study to focus exclusively on women of child-bearing age reports that diets plentiful in omega-3s may help protect younger women’s hearts too (1).

The research team analyzed data from nearly 49,000 initially healthy pregnant women (average age of 30), whose dietary habits were assessed at 3 intervals over an 8 year period. The women were then followed by checking hospital records for cardiovascular-related admissions. Because very few of these women were found to take fish oil supplements, those that did were excluded from the analyses.

Women who rarely or never ate fish had 50% more cardiovascular problems than those who consumed fish regularly. And compared to women who ate fish high in omega-3s weekly, the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) was 90% higher for those who rarely ate these omega-3 fish sources. Because they saw a strong association with CVD in women who were still in their late 30’s, the team advises younger women to eat fish as a main meal at least twice a week.

heart-healthy omega-3s Fish Tip:

Concerned about which fish are environmentally safe to eat? Print a Seafood Watch pocket guide from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s website to help you choose ocean-friendly seafood wherever you live or travel.

Dietary Antioxidants & Stroke Risk in Women

In more good news for women, Swedish researchers have found a link between a diet high in fruits, veggies and whole grains (antioxidant rich foods) and the risk of stroke (2). The researchers used dietary information from more than 31,000 women without heart disease and 5,000 with a history of CVD to determine the women’s total antioxidant capacity – the power of the food’s antioxidants to reduce free radicals in cells.

Healthy women with the highest antioxidant intake had a 17% risk reduction for all forms of stroke (hemorrhagic and ischemic) compared to those with the lowest intake. A 57% lower risk of hemorrhagic stroke was seen in women with a history of CVD who fell within the highest ¾ of antioxidant intake.

Reducing the Genetic Risk of Early AMD

Can younger people with an inherited genetic risk for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) delay or even prevent this vision-disabling condition with the right diet? Science has no conclusive answer to this question yet, though higher intakes of lutein/zeaxanthin, as well as EPA/DHA have been linked to AMD risk reduction in a number of studies.

Dutch researchers have also found a strong link between dietary zinc, antioxidants (beta-carotene and lutein/zeaxanthin) and omega-3s, and AMD development in people who carry two of the more common gene forms (variants) known to increase susceptibility to this disease (3).

Carriers of one or both of these genetic variants who consumed more of these nutrients had a significantly reduced risk of developing early AMD. Researchers estimate that, together, these variants probably contribute to late AMD in more than 80% of cases.

The study’s authors urge younger people with family members who have AMD – to consume diets that provide good intakes of these nutrients. In addition to choosing cold water fish for EPA/DHA, zinc can be found in fortified cereals, meats, dairy products, nuts and seeds. Dark green leafy veggies such as spinach and kale, and orange veggies like pumpkin and carrots, are good sources of lutein and beta-carotene.


  1. Strom M, et al. Fish, n-3 fatty acids, and cardiovascular diseases in women of reproductive age: A prospective study in a large national cohort. Hypertension [Epub ahead of print] Dec 5, 2011.
  2. Rautainen S, et al. Total antioxidant capacity and risk of stroke: a population-based prospective cohort of women. Stroke [Epub ahead of print] Dec 1, 2011.
  3. Ho L, et al. Reducing the genetic risk of age-related macular degeneration with dietary antioxidants, zinc and n-3 fatty acids. Arch Ophthalmol 129:758-66, 2011.
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