Effect of dietary omega-3 fatty acids on the heart rate and the heart rate variability responses to myocardial ischemia or submaximal exercise

George E. Billman, William Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Scopus citations


The consumption of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs) has been reported to decrease resting heart rate (HR) and increase heart rate variability (HRV). However, the effects of n-3 PUFAs on these variables in response to a physiological stress (e.g., exercise or acute myocardial ischemia), particularly in postmyocardial infarction (MI) patients, are unknown. Therefore, HR and HRV (high frequency and total R-R interval variability) were evaluated at rest, during submaximal exercise, and during a 2-min coronary artery occlusion at rest and before and 3 mo after n-3 PUFA treatment in dogs with healed MI (n = 59). The dogs were randomly assigned to either placebo (1 g/day corn oil, n = 19) or n-3 PUFA supplement (docosahexaenoic acid + eicosapentaenoic acid ethyl esters; 1 g/day, n = 6; 2 g/day, n = 12; or 4 g/day, n = 22) groups. The treatment elicited significant (P <0.01) dose-dependent increases in right atrial n-3 PUFA levels but dose-independent reductions in resting HR and increases in resting HRV. In contrast, n-3 PUFAs did not attenuate the large changes in HR or HRV induced by either the coronary occlusion or submaximal exercise. These data demonstrate that dietary n-3 PUFA decreased resting (i.e., preexercise or preocclusion) HR and increased resting HRV but did not alter the cardiac response to physiologic challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011
Externally publishedYes



  • Docosahexaenoic acid
  • Eicosapentaenoic acid
  • Exercise
  • Fish oil
  • Parasympathetic nervous system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine

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