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Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Jun;83(6 Suppl):1477S-1482S.

n-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease.

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  • 1Rockefeller University, New York, NY 10021, USA.


The results of prospective cohort studies indicate that consuming fish or fish oil containing the n-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is associated with decreased cardiovascular death, whereas consumption of the vegetable oil-derived n-3 fatty acid a-linolenic acid is not as effective. Randomized control trials (RCTs) in the context of secondary prevention also indicate that the consumption of EPA plus DHA is protective at doses <1 g/d. The therapeutic effect appears to be due to suppression of fatal arrhythmias rather than stabilization of atherosclerotic plaques. At doses >3 g/d, EPA plus DHA can improve cardiovascular disease risk factors, including decreasing plasma triacylglycerols, blood pressure, platelet aggregation, and inflammation, while improving vascular reactivity. Mainly on the basis of the results of RCTs, the American Heart Association recommends that everyone eat oily fish twice per week and that those with coronary heart disease eat 1 g/d of EPA plus DHA from oily fish or supplements. Directions for future research include (1) RCTs to confirm the initial trials showing that EPA plus DHA decreases cardiovascular death and additional studies to determine whether this effect is due to EPA, DHA, or the combination; the dosage of the effective components; and whether the mechanism of action in humans is prevention of fatal arrhythmias. (2) Clinical studies to determine whether the reduction in cardiovascular disease risk factors is due to EPA, DHA, or the combination and the dosage of the effective components. (3) Clinical studies to determine whether vegetable oil-derived alpha-linolenic acid added to a diet enriched in n-6 fatty acids can effectively substitute for fish oil-derived EPA plus DHA.

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