Increased blood pressure later in life may be associated with perinatal n-3 fatty acid deficiency

Lipids. 2003 Apr;38(4):459-64. doi: 10.1007/s11745-003-1084-y.


Hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease. Previous work in both animals and humans with high blood pressure has demonstrated the antihypertensive effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), although it is not known whether these nutrients are effective in preventing hypertension. The predominant n-3 PUFA in the mammalian nervous system, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), is deposited into synaptic membranes at a high rate during the perinatal period, and recent observations indicate that the perinatal environment is important for the normal development of blood pressure control. This study investigated the importance of perinatal n-3 PUFA supply in the control of blood pressure in adult Sprague-Dawley rats. Pregnant rat dams were fed semisynthetic diets that were either deficient in (DEF) or supplemented with (CON) n-3 PUFA. Offspring were fed the same diets as their mothers until 9 wk; then, half of the rats from each group were crossed over to the opposite diet creating four groups, i.e., CON-CON; CON-DEF; DEF-DEF, DEF-CON. Mean arterial blood pressures (MAP) were measured directly, at 33 wk of age, by cannulation of the femoral artery. The phospholipid fatty acid profile of the hypothalamic region was determined by capillary gas-liquid chromatography. The tissue phospholipid fatty acid profile reflected the diet that the rats were consuming at the time of testing. Both groups receiving DEF after 9 wk of age (i.e., DEF-DEF and CON-DEF) had similar profiles with a reduction in DHA levels of 30%, compared with rats receiving CON (i.e., CON-CON and DEF-CON). DEF-DEF rats had significantly raised MAP compared with all other groups, with differences as great as 17 mm Hg. DEF-CON rats had raised MAP compared with CON-CON rats, and DEF-DEF rats had higher MAP than CON-DEF rats, despite the fact that their respective fatty acid profiles were not different. These findings indicate that inadequate levels of DHA in the perinatal period are associated with altered blood pressure control in later life. The way in which these long-term effects are produced remains to be elucidated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animal Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Blood Pressure / drug effects
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dietary Fats / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Fatty Acids / chemistry
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hypertension / etiology*
  • Hypothalamus / chemistry
  • Phospholipids / chemistry
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Time Factors


  • Dietary Fats
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Phospholipids