Risk Stratification by the "EPA+DHA Level" and the "EPA/AA Ratio" Focus on Anti-Inflammatory and Antiarrhythmogenic Effects of Long-Chain omega-3 Fatty Acids

Herz. 2004 Nov;29(7):673-85. doi: 10.1007/s00059-004-2602-4.


The identification of risks associated with sudden cardiac death requires further investigations. The question was addressed whether parameters can be established which not only describe an increased risk for an enhanced electrical instability of the heart but also of inflammatory events underlying plaque rupture. Emphasis is placed on dose-dependent effects of the long-chain omega-(omega-)3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Since free acids of EPA and DHA are required for most of their biological effects, it appears essential not only to build up stores in the body for release of these fatty acids, but also to provide a sustained uptake of EPA and DHA in the form of ethyl esters. In contrast to rapidly absorbed triacylglycerols from fish, ethyl esters are taken up more slowly within 24 h. For the administration of 1 g/day highly purified EPA+DHA ethyl esters (Omacor) to healthy volunteers, it is shown that EPA is increased from 0.6% to 1.4% within 10 days, while DHA is increased from 2.9% to 4.3%. After withdrawal, EPA and DHA approach baseline values within 10 days. A gas chromatographic procedure was established which requires only 10 microl of whole blood for the identification of more than 35 fatty acids. Evidence is summarized strengthening the concept that a low "EPA+DHA level" presents a risk for sudden cardiac death and that the administration of 840 mg/day of EPA+DHA ethyl esters raises the "EPA+DHA level" to approximately 6% that is associated with a marked protection from sudden cardiac death. For reducing pro-inflammatory eicosanoids and cytokines, a higher "EPA+DHA level" is required which can be achieved with an intake of 2-4 g/day of 84% EPA+DHA ethyl esters. For assessing influences from pro-inflammatory eicosanoids and cytokines, the EPA/arachidonic acid ratio ("EPA/AA ratio") was identified as diagnostic parameter. To assess the dietary EPA+DHA intake, fatty acids were determined in fish dishes of the cafeteria of the Philipps University Hospital Marburg, Germany. The EPA+DHA content of the popular Alaska Pollock was 125 +/- 70 mg/100 g. A once daily fish dish can thus not provide the 840 mg/day EPA+DHA administered in the GISSI Prevention Study in the form of ethyl ester which markedly reduced the risk of sudden cardiac death in postmyocardial infarction patients. Nonetheless, at least two preferably oily fish meals per week should be consumed as preventive measure by persons without coronary artery disease. With documented coronary heart disease, it was advised to consume approximately 1 g/day of EPA+DHA.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / administration & dosage
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / blood
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / mortality
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / prevention & control*
  • Coronary Artery Disease / blood
  • Coronary Artery Disease / mortality
  • Coronary Artery Disease / prevention & control*
  • Diet
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / blood
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Eicosanoic Acids / blood*
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / administration & dosage*
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Humans
  • Nutrition Policy
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Eicosanoic Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid
  • arachidic acid