Background: Inuit traditionally consume large amounts of marine foods rich in n-3 fatty acids. Evidence exists that n-3 fatty acids have beneficial effects on key risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Objective: Our goal was to verify the relation between plasma phospholipid concentrations of the n-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and various cardiovascular disease risk factors among the Inuit of Nunavik, Canada.
Design: The study population consisted of 426 Inuit aged 18-74 y who participated in a 1992 health survey. Data were obtained through home interviews and clinical visits. Plasma samples were analyzed for phospholipid fatty acid composition.
Results: Expressed as the percentage of total fatty acids, geometric mean concentrations of EPA, DHA, and their combination in plasma phospholipids were 1.99%, 4.52%, and 6.83%, respectively. n-3 Fatty acids were positively associated with HDL-cholesterol concentrations and inversely associated with triacylglycerol concentrations and the ratio of total to HDL cholesterol. In contrast, concentrations of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and plasma glucose increased as n-3 fatty acid concentrations increased. There were no significant associations between n-3 fatty acids and diastolic and systolic blood pressure and plasma insulin.
Conclusions: Consumption of marine products, the main source of EPA and DHA, appears to beneficially affect some cardiovascular disease risk factors. The traditional Inuit diet, which is rich in n-3 fatty acids, is probably responsible for the low mortality rate from ischemic heart disease in this population.