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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


Omega-3 Fatty Acids, EPA, DHA, and Heart Health

By Michael McBurney

Omega-3 fatty acids are heart healthy. The American Heart Association endorses eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times (two servings) a week. The FDA has approved a health claim for two omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), with respect to reducing the risk of coronary heart disease. How do DHA and EPA reduce cardiovascular risk?

One proposed mechanism is to reduce triglycerides, a cardiovascular risk factor. Normal triglyceride levels are ≤ 150 mg/dL and high triglycerices are defined as 200-499 mg/dL. Overall, 31% of Americans have triglyceride levels above normal. Or to give an estimate, ~ 97 million people of the 314 million Americans. And 3.4 million Americans have severe hypertriglyceridemia (≥ 500 mg/dL).

In the blood, triglycerides are found in a range of particle sizes. Oelrich and colleagues wanted to examine the effect of EPA and DHA supplementation on serum triglyceride concentrations and LDL-cholesterol particle size. Smaller particles are more atherogenic. They enrolled 46 men and 14 women (52y-old) with elevated triglycerides who were not on lipid-lowering prescription medications. They were randomized to placebo or 4 g/d of EPA and DHA (5 capsules/d with 800mg/capsule) for 12 weeks. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduced serum triglycerides 26% and modestly increased LDL-cholesterol levels 13%. Changes in LDL phenotype patterns were not statistically different among treatments. In conclusion, daily EPA and DHA supplementation daily effectively lowered blood triglyceride concentrations.

It should be remembered that the FDA Health ‘Omega-3 Fatty Acid and Coronary Heart Disease’ health claim stipulates “Dietary supplements should not recommend or suggest in their labeling a daily intake exceeding 2 grams of EPA and DHA.”-mm-Citations:

Oelrich B, Dewell A, Gardner CD. Effect of fish oil supplementation on serum triglycerides, LDL-cholesterol and LDL subfractions in hypertriglyceridemia adults. 2013 Nutr Metab CVD

‘Omega-3 Fatty Acid and Coronary Heart Disease’ qualified health claim. Docket No. 2003Q-0401.