During the past 25 years, the cardiovascular effects of marine omega-3 (ω-3) fatty acids have been the subject of increasing investigation. In the late 1970s, epidemiological studies revealed that Greenland Inuits had substantially reduced rates of acute myocardial infarction compared with Western control subjects. These observations generated more than 4500 studies to explore this and other effects of ω-3 fatty acids on human metabolism and health. From epidemiology to cell culture and animal studies to randomized controlled trials, the cardioprotective effects of ω-3 fatty acids are becoming recognized. These fatty acids, when incorporated into the diet at levels of about 1 g/d, seem to be able to stabilize myocardial membranes electrically, resulting in reduced susceptibility to ventricular dysrhythmias, thereby reducing the risk of sudden death. The recent GISSI (Gruppo Italiano per lo Studio della Sopravvivenza nell'Infarto miocardico)- Prevention study of 11,324 patients showed a 45% decrease in risk of sudden cardiac death and a 20% reduction in all-cause mortality in the group taking 850 mg/d of ω-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have potent anti-inflammatory effects and may also be antiatherogenic. Higher doses of ω-3 fatty acids can lower elevated serum triglyceride levels; 3 to 5 g/d can reduce triglyceride levels by 30% to 50%, minimizing the risk of both coronary heart disease and acute pancreatitis. This review summarizes the emerging evidence of the use of ω-3 fatty acids in the prevention of coronary heart disease.
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