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Omega-3 Fatty Acids Prevent More Deaths than Defibrillators

Omega-3 fatty acids may prevent more sudden deaths than automated external defibrillators in homes and public places or implanted defibrillators, according to the results of a new study.

Researchers compared these preventive strategies in a computer-simulated community of 100,000 people that resembled the population of Olmsted County, Minn., in 2000. By raising omega-3 fatty acids levels in this simulation, Thomas Kottke, M.D., and colleagues were able to lower overall death rates by 6.4 percent.

By contrast, automated external defibrillators or AEDs reduced death rates by 0.8 percent, and implanted defibrillators (ICDs) reduced deaths by 3.3 percent, the researchers found.
People can raise their omega-3 levels by eating fish or taking supplements. There are a number of good fish oils on the market, but one of the best new ways to get omega-3 polyunsaturated fats is from krill oil.

The study, published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, showed that raising omega-3 fatty acids “would have about eight times the impact of distributing AEDs and two times the impact of implanting ICDs,” Kottke said.

Three-quarters of the reduction in deaths from increased omega-3 fatty acid levels would come from raising omega-3s among the healthy portion of the population, according to the researchers. One would never consider surgically implanting a defibrillator in a healthy person.

Raising blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids in individuals after a cardiac event such as a heart attack could save 58 lives a year in this sim city of 100,000 people, according to the simulation’s predictions. Only seven lives per year were saved by AEDs, while implantable defibrillators prevented 30 deaths each year. Projected to the US population of 300 million people, eating omega-3 fatty acids would save 174,000 lives per year. Another perspective, nearly 3,000 people perished in the 9/11 attack. What is it worth to encourage people to consume omega-3 fatty acids to save 174,000 American lives per year?

“Despite the fact that AEDs do save lives, they are unlikely to ever have a substantial impact on rates of sudden death,” Kottke said, explaining that a whole chain of events — from speedy application of the device to surviving in the hospital — has to occur to save a person with an AED.

Kottke and colleagues also note the comparative costs of omega-3 versus defibrillator treatment. For example, a 100,000 person population could raise their omega-3 levels with daily supplements for $5.8 million a year. “If however, a large proportion of the community ate fish high in omega-3 content rather than other meat, much of the [fish] cost would be offset [by the beef not eaten at that meal],” Kottke said. Equipping every household in a similar population with an AED would cost $201 million, the researchers estimate.


Kottke, TE, et al. (2006) Preventing sudden death with n-3 (omega-3) fatty acids and defibrillators. Am J Prev Med 31(4), 2006 Oct.

Key concepts: omega-3, defibrillator, cardiac death