Flaxseed May Lower Sudden Cardiac Death Risk
Alpha-Linolenic Acid Appears to Calm Erratic Heart Rhythm
Nov. 8, 2004 (New Orleans) -- A healthy dose of flaxseed oil or walnuts may provide enough alpha-linolenic acid to help prevent sudden cardiac death.
Two capfuls of flaxseed oil a day or a handful of walnuts -- packed full of alpha-linolenic acid -- may reduce a woman's risk of sudden cardiac death, according to researchers from Harvard Medical School.
Lead researcher Christine M. Albert, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard University Medical School in Boston, tells WebMD that alpha-linolenic acid may prevent potentially deadly heart rhythm irregularities.
She says these heart rhythm problems occur when the heart starts beating chaotically. This erratic beating does not effectively pump blood and can cause sudden cardiac death. "The alpha-linolenic acid appears to stabilize the heart and calm this chaos." Albert reported her findings at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2004.
The American Heart Association estimates that 340,000 Americans die each year as a result of sudden cardiac death.
Alpha-linolenic acid is an essential fatty acid, meaning that your body can't produce it so it must come from your diet.
In the study of more than 76,000 women, those who ate the highest levels of alpha-linolenic acid -- about 1.5 grams a day -- had a 46% lower risk of sudden cardiac death than women who ate the least amount of alpha-linolenic acid -- just over half a gram a day.
But Albert says it is too early to tell women that eating a certain amount of alpha-linolenic acid a day will prevent sudden cardiac death. She explains that the finding is just an association at this point and that more research is needed to confirm that alpha-linolenic acid can help prevent sudden cardiac death.
Sidney Smith, MD, director of the Center for Cardiovascular Science and Medicine at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and a spokesperson for the AHA, tells WebMD that the findings support a theory that many researchers have proposed: Alpha-linolenic acid offers a benefit similar to the protective effect of omega-3-fatty acids, which are found in fish. The American Heart Association recommends that people eat at least two servings of fish a week as part of a heart-healthy diet.
Noting his own belief in the value of alpha-linolenic acids, Smith says, "I crush walnuts and sprinkle them on my cereal every morning." Smith was not involved in the study.
Albert says in addition to walnuts, flaxseed oil, and flaxseed supplements, green leafy vegetables -- especially kale -- canola oil, and almonds are also sources of alpha-linolenic acid.