Relationship between circulating n-3 fatty acid concentrations and endothelial function in early adulthood

Eur Heart J. 2002 Feb;23(3):216-22. doi: 10.1053/euhj.2001.2728.


Aims: Fish consumption is inversely associated with cardiovascular mortality, presumably because of n-3 fatty acids in fish. Whether the protection of n-3 fatty acids extends beyond clinical coronary disease to influence the early vascular biology of atherosclerosis remains unclear. This study determined whether circulating levels of n-3 fatty acids are associated with vascular endothelial function in early adulthood.

Methods and results: Three hundred and twenty-six adults (157 males, 169 females, aged 20 to 28 years) had high-resolution ultrasound measurements of flow-mediated brachial artery dilatation (FMD) (endothelium-dependent) and arterial response to glyceryl trinitrate (endothelium-independent). Levels of the n-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid in plasma and erythrocyte membranes of subjects were measured. n-3 Fatty acid levels were not related to vascular function in the whole group. In smokers, however, n-3 fatty acids were positively related to flow-mediated dilatation (plasma DHA vs. FMD: 0.045 mm. %(-1), 95% CI 0.011 to 0.079, P=0.01). Flow-mediated dilatation was also associated with n-3 fatty acid levels in subjects in the top third of the insulin, glucose and triglyceride distributions.

Conclusion: In young smokers and those with higher fasting insulin, glucose or triglyceride concentrations (factors associated with endothelial dysfunction), n-3 fatty acid levels were positively associated with flow-mediated dilatation. This raises the possibility that physiological levels of circulating n-3 fatty acids may protect the endothelium from early adulthood.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood Circulation / drug effects*
  • Blood Circulation / physiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / blood
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Cholesterol, HDL / blood
  • Cholesterol, HDL / drug effects
  • Cholesterol, LDL / blood
  • Cholesterol, LDL / drug effects
  • Endothelium, Vascular / drug effects*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiology*
  • Erythrocytes / chemistry
  • Erythrocytes / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / blood*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Triglycerides / blood
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology


  • Cholesterol, HDL
  • Cholesterol, LDL
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Triglycerides