#DoesItWorkSummary: Omega-3 Fatty Acids Supplementation for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease

By Atanas G. Atanasov


Background: This #DoesItWorkSummary is based on the findings of a Cochrane Systematic Review published in July 2018 [1]. Cardiovascular disease leads to life-threatening events such as myocardial infarction and stroke, and is the number one cause of death in the world. Omega-3 fatty acids belong to the class of the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) and are “essential” nutrients – they cannot be produced in the human body and we must supply them with the food to stay healthy. The 3 most important types of omega-3 fatty acids are alpha‐linolenic acid (ALA; found in high amounts in plant foods such as nuts, seeds, and vegetable oils), and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), both of which are found in fish [2]. There is a common belief that omega‐3 fatty acids are health-promoting and have positive influence on cardiovascular disease. A systematic evaluation of the available human trial data was performed to get overview if the existing scientific data truly support the efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation for the prevention of cardiovascular disease.

#DoesItWorkSummary: Omega-3 Fatty Acids Supplementation for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease

Findings: Analyzed were 79 trials involving 112,059 people (resulting in the so far the most extensive study on the topic) [1]. The potential effects of ALA and of EPA+DHA were compared separately. Increasing of EPA+DHA or of ALA intake did not affect total mortality rates or mortality resulting from cardiovascular disease. There was low-quality evidence for a slight preventive effect of ALA (but not of EPA+DHA) on heart disease. Despite the lack of efficacy of ALA or EPA+DHA on the death rates related to cardiovascular disease and on the total death rates (representing the most important evaluated parameters), there was high-to-moderate-strength evidence supporting the efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation in modulating blood lipid parameters: EPA+DHA slightly reduce serum triglycerides and raise HDL (the “good cholesterol”), and ALA reduces HDL. There was no evidence that increased omega-3 fatty acids intake would result in any serious adverse effects or in increased body fat deposition.



1          Abdelhamid, A.S., Brown, T.J., Brainard, J.S., Biswas, P., Thorpe, G.C., Moore, H.J., Deane, K.H., AlAbdulghafoor, F.K., Summerbell, C.D., Worthington, H. V, Song, F. and Hooper, L. (2018) Omega-3 Fatty Acids for the Primary and Secondary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD003177.pub3.

2          Russo, G.L. (2009) Dietary N−6 and N−3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: From Biochemistry to Clinical Implications in Cardiovascular Prevention. Biochemical Pharmacology, 77, 937–946. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bcp.2008.10.020.


Keywords: #DoesItWorkSummary, omega-3 fatty acids, dietary supplementation for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, PUFA, ALA, EPA, DHA,  total mortality rates, mortality resulting from cardiovascular disease, heart disease, triglycerides, blood lipids, eicosapentaenoic acid, docosahexaenoic acid, alpha‐linolenic acid.


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