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J Atheroscler Thromb. 2014;21(9):941-56. Epub 2014 Apr 12.

Effects of the consumption of fish meals on the carotid IntimaMedia thickness in patients with hypertension: a prospective study.

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Hypertension Unit, Clinica Medica, Department of Experimental and Clinical Medical Science, University of Udine.



The composition of dietary fat affects various modifiable cardiovascular risk factors and cardiovascular outcomes in the general population. We investigated the effects of the regular consumption of fish meals on the fatty acid composition of red blood cell (RBC) membranes and the relationship of this parameter with the carotid intima-media thickness (IMT), an early marker of atherosclerosis.


In 56 hypertensive patients, we measured the carotid IMT using ultrasound imaging and the RBC membrane fatty acid composition using gas-chromatography and calculated the polyunsaturated to saturated fatty acid (PUFA/SFA) ratio. The patients received intensive nutritional counseling and three weekly meals of fish containing elevated amounts of PUFA, in order to increase the membrane PUFA content. The RBC membrane fatty acid composition and IMT were reassessed after one year.


At baseline, the membrane PUFA/SFA ratio was inversely related to the carotid IMT, and the relationship was independent of all major cardiovascular risk factors. At follow-up, the PUFA/SFA ratio increased in the RBC membranes of 25 (45%) of 56 patients. The regular consumption of fish meals resulted in a decreased carotid IMT only in the patients with an increased membrane PUFA/SFA ratio. Changes in the PUFA/SFA ratio induced by the dietary intervention were inversely related to the changes in the IMT, independent of variations in body mass, blood pressure and plasma lipids.


In hypertensive patients, a low RBC membrane PUFA/SFA ratio is associated with more prominent vascular damage, and the regular consumption of fish reduces the carotid IMT in patients in whom dietary intervention affects the membrane fatty acid composition.

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