, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp 461-467

Omega-3 fatty acids and inflammation

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Abstract

Dietary omega-3 (n-3) fatty acids have a variety of anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating effects that may be of relevance to atherosclerosis and its clinical manifestations of myocardial infarction, sudden death, and stroke. The n-3 fatty acids that appear to be most potent in this respect are the long-chain polyunsaturates derived from marine oils, namely eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and this review is restricted to these substances. A variety of biologic effects of EPA and DHA have been demonstrated from feeding studies with fish or fish oil supplements in humans and animals. These include effects on triglycerides, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, platelet function, endothelial and vascular function, blood pressure, cardiac excitability, measures of oxidative stress, pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines, and immune function. Epidemiologic studies provide evidence for a beneficial effect of n-3 fatty acids on manifestations of coronary heart disease and ischemic stroke, whereas randomized, controlled, clinical feeding trials support this, particularly with respect to sudden cardiac death in patients with established disease. Clinically important anti-inflammatory effects in man are further suggested by trials demonstrating benefits of n-3 fatty acids in rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, asthma, and inflammatory bowel disorders. Given the evidence relating progression of atherosclerosis to chronic inflammation, the n-3 fatty acids may play an important role via modulation of the inflammatory processes.