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Rapid declines in coronary heart disease mortality in Eastern Europe are associated with increased consumption of oils rich in alpha-linolenic acid

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During the 1980’s, opposing time trends were observed in coronary heart disease (CHD) rates between Eastern and Western European countries. In all former socialistic economic countries, CHD was uniformly increasing or stable, but a steady decline in CHD was observed in Western European countries. Surprisingly, during the 1990’s CHD mortality substantially decreased in some Eastern European countries but not in others. These changes were accompanied by major shifts in food consumption, including the type of vegetable oils used by the population. There are two major vegetable oils consumed in Eastern Europe (rapeseed and sunflower) that differ greatly in their content of n-3 fatty acids, specifically alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Low ALA intake has been associated with risk of fatal CHD and sudden cardiac death. The purpose of this study was to examine trends in CHD in eleven Eastern European countries to identify whether national changes in vegetable oil consumption after 1990 were associated with changes in CHD mortality rates. Our data show that countries which experienced an increase in ALA consumption also experienced a substantial decline in CHD mortality. These results were consistent in men and women. We hypothesize that the decline in CHD mortality observed in Eastern Europe can be attributed, in part, to changes in ALA consumption.

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The work on this manuscript was conducted within the European Commission Public Health Project: HEM—Closing the Gap—Reducing Premature Mortality. Baseline for Monitoring Health Evolution Following Enlargement (grant agreement no 2003121) to the Cancer Centre and Institute of Oncology, Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Division, Warsaw (Principal Investigator: Witold Zatonski).

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Correspondence to Witold Zatonski.

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Zatonski, W., Campos, H. & Willett, W. Rapid declines in coronary heart disease mortality in Eastern Europe are associated with increased consumption of oils rich in alpha-linolenic acid. Eur J Epidemiol 23, 3–10 (2008).

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