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Should increased omega-3 fatty acid intakes still be recommended for cardiovascular health?

Published on

19 March 2014

A new data review suggests that while higher blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids may be linked with a reduced coronary disease risk, the overall evidence is insufficient to encourage high consumption of omega-3 fatty acids for cardiovascular health. Experts commented that the new data analysis should not change the current recommendation of diets high in polyunsaturated fats.

The systematic review and meta-analysis included data from 49 long-term prospective observational studies and 27 randomized controlled trials investigating a potential link between intakes and/or blood concentrations of fatty acids and the risk of developing heart diseases (1). The analysis showed statistically non-significant associations between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acid intakes or levels and heart diseases in the observa- tional studies and the randomized controlled trials. However, some evidence was found that increased blood levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acids (DHA) as well as arachidonic acid may each be associated with lower coronary heart disease risk.

The researchers concluded that current evidence does not clearly support guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats for heart health. In contrast, experts stated the findings of a 25% decreased risk of developing coronary disease linked with increased blood concentrations of EPA and DHA would significantly support increased consumption of the omega-3 fatty acids via supplements or as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle including regular exercise. There are thousands of studies and decades of recommendations from nutritional, medical and governmental organizations supporting the important heart health benefits associated with diets high in polyunsaturated fats, low in saturated fats, and avoidance of trans fats, the expert added. It is no surprise that some intervention studies did not show significant effects as they can be subtle and take a long time to manifest. Thus, the new data analysis should not change any advice to consumers.


  1. Chowdhury R. et al. Association of Dietary, Circulating, and Supplement Fatty Acids With Coronary Risk – A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. Published online March 2014.

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