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October 8, 2001

The Fats of Life: The Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine (Dr Harper) and the Office of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (Dr Jacobson), Emory University, Atlanta, Ga.

Arch Intern Med. 2001;161(18):2185-2192. doi:10.1001/archinte.161.18.2185

Epidemiological and clinical trial evidence suggests that ω-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) might have a significant role in the prevention of coronary heart disease. Dietary sources of ω-3 PUFA include fish oils rich in eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid along with plants rich in α-linolenic acid. Randomized clinical trials with fish oils (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) and α-linolenic acid have demonstrated reductions in risk that compare favorably with those seen in landmark secondary prevention trials with lipid-lowering drugs. Several mechanisms explaining the cardioprotective effect of ω-3 PUFAs have been suggested, including antiarrhythmic, hypolipidemic, and antithrombotic roles. Although official US guidelines for the dietary intake of ω-3 PUFAs are not available, several international guidelines have been published. Fish is an important source of ω-3 PUFAs in the US diet; however, vegetable sources, including grains and oils, offer an alternative source for those who are unable to regularly consume fish.