Background: The notion that the incidence of ischemic heart disease (IHD) is low among the Inuit subsisting on a traditional marine diet has attained axiomatic status. The scientific evidence for this is weak and rests on early clinical evidence and uncertain mortality statistics.
Methods: We reviewed the literature and performed new analyses of the mortality statistics from Greenland, Canada, and Alaska.
Findings: The evidence for a low mortality from IHD among the Inuit is fragile and rests on unreliable mortality statistics. Mortality from stroke, however, is higher among the Inuit than among other western populations. Based on the examination of 15 candidate gene polymorphisms, the Inuit genetic architecture does not obviously explain putative differences in cardiovascular disease prevalence.
Interpretation: The mortality from all cardiovascular diseases combined is not lower among the Inuit than in white comparison populations. If the mortality from IHD is low, it seems not to be associated with a low prevalence of general atherosclerosis. A decreasing trend in mortality from IHD in Inuit populations undergoing rapid westernization supports the need for a critical rethinking of cardiovascular epidemiology among the Inuit and the role of a marine diet in this population.