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n-3 Fatty acids and risk for fatal coronary disease

  • William S. Harris (a1) (a2) and Francis B. Zotor (a3)


The purpose of this review is to consider the effects of the long-chain n-3 fatty acids found in marine foods, EPA and DHA, on risk for CVD, particularly fatal outcomes. It will examine both epidemiological and randomised controlled trial findings. The former studies usually examine associations between the dietary intake or the blood levels of EPA + DHA and CVD outcomes or, on occasion, total mortality. For example, our studies in the Framingham Heart Study and in the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study have demonstrated significant inverse relations between erythrocyte EPA + DHA levels (i.e. the Omega-3 Index) and total mortality. Recent data from the Cardiovascular Health Study reported the same relations between plasma phospholipid n-3 levels and overall healthy ageing. As regards randomised trials, studies in the 1990s and early 2000s were generally supportive of a cardiovascular benefit for fish oils (which contain EPA + DHA), but later trials were generally not able to duplicate these findings, at least for total CVD events. However, when restricted to effects on risk for fatal events, meta-analyses have shown consistent benefits for n-3 treatment. Taken together, the evidence is strong for a cardioprotective effect of EPA + DHA, especially when consumed in sufficient amounts to raise blood levels into healthy ranges. Establishing target EPA + DHA intakes to reduce risk for cardiovascular death is a high priority.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: William S. Harris, email


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Proceedings of the Nutrition Society
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  • EISSN: 1475-2719
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