n-3 Fatty acids and cardiovascular disease risk factors among the Inuit of Nunavik

Am J Clin Nutr. 2001 Oct;74(4):464-73. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/74.4.464.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anthropometry
  • Blood Glucose
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Cholesterol / blood
  • Diet*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insulin / blood
  • Inuit
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phospholipids / blood*
  • Quebec
  • Risk Factors


  • Blood Glucose
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Insulin
  • Phospholipids
  • Cholesterol