Study says eating oily fish weekly defends against stroke

Q: Grandma insists on eating four cans of sardines a week. My sister always needles Grandma about it because she simply doesn’t like the scent of sardines when we drop in during the week to check on her. This precious 88-year-old lady needs some help around the house now and then, and now my sister thinks she needs help with shopping. And, by the way, sardines aren’t a bad thing, are they?

A: Sardines appear to be a healthy option for Grandma, the odor notwithstanding. Eating at least two servings of oily fish a week is moderately but significantly associated with a reduced risk of stroke, according to a study published on

But taking fish oil supplements doesn’t seem to have the same effect, say the researchers.

Regular consumption of fish and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids already had been linked to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

As a result, guidelines recommend eating at least two portions of fish a week, preferably oily fish such as mackerel and sardines. But evidence supporting a similar benefit for stroke remained unclear.

So an international team of researchers from Cambridge University analyzed the results of 38 studies to help clarify the association between fish consumption and risk of stroke or mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack or TIA). Collectively, these conditions are known as cerebrovascular disease.

After adjusting for several risk factors, participants eating two to four servings a week had a moderate but significant 6 percent lower risk of cerebrovascular disease compared with those eating one or fewer servings of fish a week, while participants eating five or more servings a week had a 12 percent lower risk.

An increment of two servings per week of any fish was associated with a 4 percent reduced risk of cerebrovascular disease. In contrast, levels of omega-3 fats in the blood and fish oil supplements were not significantly associated with a reduced risk.

No one should tease your grandmother about her decision to buy sardines, but you and your sister could consider suggesting caregiving assistance.

A Home Instead CAREGiverSM could help her with grocery shopping and meal preparation, perhaps even making those sardines seem more appetizing. A CAREGiver can assist in other ways, including light housekeeping, medication reminders, companionship and transportation for medical appointments or shopping.

For more information about Home Instead Senior Care, contact Joe DeLauter at 866-522-6533 or go to

To read more about the study, visit www.bmj .com/content/345/bmj.e6698.