Fish Oil in Health and Disease

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are effective at reducing heart disease risk, but fears have been raised that n-6 PUFAs may interfere with the metabolism of n-3 PUFAs. However, new evidence from Harvard Medical School will help put these fears to rest.

Fatty Acids Reduced Risk of Coronary Heart Disease

Researchers studied the links between various PUFA intakes and the incidence of coronary heart disease (CHD) in 45,722 men enrolled in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. A reliable food-frequency questionnaire was given at the start and completed every four years to determine PUFA intakes. During the 14 years of follow-up, there were 218 sudden deaths, 1,521 nonfatal myocardial infarctions (MIs) and 2,306 total CHD events (combined sudden death, other CHD deaths, and nonfatal MI) among the participants. Dietary analysis showed that both seafood-derived long-chain and plant-derived intermediate-chain n-3 PUFA intakes were linked to a reduced CHD risk, regardless of n-6 PUFA intake. Men who consumed more than 250 mg seafood-based n-3 PUFA per day had a 40-50 per cent lower risk of CHD.

The researchers also looked at the relationship between seafood-based n-3 PUFAs and plant-based n-3 PUFAs. They found that when seafood-based n-3 PUFA intake is low (less than 100 mg per day), plant- based n-3 PUFAs are particularly effective at reducing CHD risk. For every additional 1 g of plant-based n-3 PUFA per day, MI risk was reduced by 58 per cent and total CHD risk was reduced by 47 per cent. Contrary to previous findings, this study found no links between overall CHD risk and intake of n-6 PUFAs. The results suggest that a modest dietary intake of seafood (250 mg, equaling around 1-2 oily fish meals a week) may lower the risk of CHD, irrespective of n-6 PUFA intake. The authors concluded that plant sources of PUFAs are especially important in populations with limited access to, or consumption of seafood.
Mozaffarian D et al. Interplay between different polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease in men. Circulation, Vol. 111, January 2005, pp.157-164

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