There are many different causes for sudden cardiac death, however, the most common causes are due to: coronary artery atheroma, high-grade stenosis (narrowing) in one of the main arteries to the heart, ischemia (lack of oxygen to the heart muscle), left ventricular hypertrophy (thickening of the wall to the main pumping chamber due to uncontrolled high blood pressure), and an undiagnosed blood clot.

In some cases, the heart stops or is sent into ventricular fibrillation (cardiac arrest), which can be a fatal heart arrhythmia, which may ultimately result in death.

The use of CPR or an external defibrillator can sometimes save a person who is in cardiac arrest; but in sudden cardiac death, it has been shown that the heart may be resistant to external life-saving measures.

Although media attention is placed on young, healthy athletes or athletes who die unexpectedly, this condition affects thousands of people yearly.

Research shows that a higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids may be associated with a lower risk for sudden cardiac death.

A new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at different dietary fat types and how they affected the risk for sudden cardiac death.

Let me explain…

Sudden Cardiac Death and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Sudden cardiac death, when it strikes, may have no symptoms associated with it, like what you would typically find in a heart attack.

Some people may experience left arm numbness, pain radiating in the chest, jaw, arm, hours or minutes prior to the attack.

However, in most cases, people who seem relatively healthy, suddenly lose consciousness and collapse, which may lead to death.

According to this study, omega-3 fatty acids have been inversely associated with sudden cardiac death.

However, the other dietary fatty acids have not been investigated.

The authors of this study wanted to evaluate the association between dietary fatty acids, expressed as a proportion of total fat, and sudden cardiac death.

They performed a prospective cohort study starting in 1980 and spanning the course of 30 years.  The study evaluated 91,989 women between the ages of 34 and 52 who were part of the Nurses’ Health Study.

Over the 30 years, they saw 385 cases of sudden cardiac death.

They showed women with the highest, when compared to the lowest, intake of saturated fat showed an increase risk in sudden cardiac death.

Comparatively, women with the highest intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids, compared to the lowest, showed a reduced risk for sudden cardiac death.

Also noted, intake of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids was associated with a lower risk for sudden cardiac death. 

It has been theorized that omega-6 fatty acids slowed the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, but this study did not show omega-6 fatty acids to alter the benefits of omega-3‘s.

Monounsaturated fat and trans-fats was not associated with sudden cardiac death.

When the researchers adjusted for coronary artery disease, the association between omega-3 fatty acids and sudden cardiac death remained significant, whereas, saturated fatty acid was no longer significant.

From their work, they concluded that intake of omega-3 fatty acids as a proportion of fat intake was inversely associated with sudden cardiac death, independent of previous cardiac history.

Although this study is new and further supports dietary guidelines put in place to improve the dietary fat quality, it still needs to be studied and verified before it may be considered valid.

It does, however, show that altering the fat in your diet should be considered if you are looking to reduce your risk for chronic diseases.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Heart Health

Sudden cardiac death is a condition that causes natural, and sometimes sudden death, due to cardiac causes.

It affects thousands of people per year, but has gained media exposure due to many young, healthy athletes suffering from sudden cardiac death while participating in a sporting event.

According to this study, omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to a reduced risk for sudden cardiac death, whereas other dietary fats may increase your risk.

Altering your diet to increase good fatty acids may not only lead to weight loss and better health, but may even reduce your risk for sudden cardiac death.



Chiuve SE, Rimm EB, Sandhu RK, Bernstein AM, Rexrode KM, Manson JE, Willett WC, Albert CM.  Dietary fat quality and risk of sudden cardiac death in women.  Am J Clin Nutr.  2012 Sept;96(3):498-507.


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Jaylab Pro was founded by Registered Dietitian Jayson Hunter. Jayson has been recognized as one of America's foremost weight loss experts by America's Premier Experts™. He has also been featured in USA Today for this accomplishment. Jayson is also a best-selling author having co-authored multiple books in health & fitness and business growth. Jayson and the Jaylab Pro team are proud to create content that helps improve the lives of millions of people around the world. We hope you enjoy it just as much as others have.

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