Dialysis patients with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood have a much lower risk of sudden cardiac death in the first year of their treatment, new research shows.
The study, published online in the journal Kidney International, is among the first to suggest omega-3 acids — in fish and fish oil — can protect new kidney disease patients, who are among the highest-risk patients for sudden cardiac death, as they begin dialysis.
The research, conducted by Indiana University School of Medicine researchers, involved 100 patients who died of sudden cardiac death during their first year of dialysis and 300 patients who survived.
Allon N. Friedman, M.D., an associate professor of medicine who helped conduct the study, said the findings are promising and suggest doctors should press dialysis patients to increase their intake of omega-3 acids, by taking fish oil supplements or making dietary changes.
"We found that higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood of patients who were just starting hemodialysis were very strongly associated with a lower risk of sudden cardiac death over the first year of their treatment," Dr. Friedman said.
"The risk of sudden cardiac death in hemodialysis patients is highest during the first year of treatment. The annual rate of sudden cardiac death is about 6 to 7 percent, which may even exceed the rate in patients with heart failure. This study is a first step toward identifying a possible treatment for sudden cardiac death in dialysis patients."
The five-year survival rate for dialysis patients is 35 percent, with the risk of death highest in the first few months of starting treatment, researchers noted. The most common cause of death is sudden cardiac death, which accounts for about one out of every four deaths.
"Because omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained from certain foods, such as fish oil, our findings also have important implications for the type of diet we recommend to patients on dialysis," Dr. Friedman said.
Funding for this research was provided by the National Institutes of Health and the National Kidney Foundation.
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