Healthy middle-aged men who have elevated blood levels of "free" fatty acids may be 70 per cent more likely to experience sudden cardiac death than their peers with lower levels of the compounds, French researchers report, according to ReutersHealth. High levels of fatty acids in the blood -or "free" fatty acids - can trigger irregular heartbeats, leading to sudden death in people with heart disease. These compounds now appear to be just as dangerous for those who have not been diagnosed with heart disease, according to the report. Researchers led by Dr. Xavier Jouven, of the University of Paris, tracked the 22-year medical histories of over 5,200 healthy men aged 42 to 53 years. The study authors believe their findings underscore the importance of reducing heart disease risk factors among all middle-aged men - not just those with diagnosed heart disease. "Although its clinical benefit is not yet proven, finding ways to decrease free fatty acid levels in subjects at high risk for sudden death may be a target for prevention," Dr. Jouven said in a prepared statement. Not all fatty acids are detrimental. Dr. Alexander Leaf, a professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, suggests that increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish, may help to maintain a healthy balance of fatty acids in the blood. Studies have suggested that people with higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids in relation to omega-6 fatty acids, found in vegetable oils, have a lower risk of heart disease. However, Leaf stressed that the link remains unproven. Sudden cardiac death usually occurs within 2 hours after symptoms of heart attack begin. It can also occur independent of a heart attack, usually in patients with cardiovascular disease. People who are at risk for sudden death include heart attack survivors, individuals with diabetes and those with a family history of sudden death. Jouven said it is not entirely clear how fatty acids increase the risk, but he suggests that high levels somehow cause the muscle cells of the heart to beat irregularly. Other factors found to be associated with increased risk of sudden death included being overweight, high blood pressure, smoking, family history of sudden death and cholesterol levels, the researchers note. Full findings are published in the August 14th issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.