Epidemiological, human, animal, and cell culture studies show that n-3 fatty acids, especially α-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), reduce the risk factors of cardiovascular diseases. EPA and DHA, rather than ALA, have been the focus of research on the n-3 fatty acids, probably due to the relatively inefficient conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA in rodents and humans. This review will assess our current understanding of the effects and potential mechanisms of actions of individual n-3 fatty acids on multiple risk factors of metabolic syndrome. Evidence for pharmacological responses and the mechanism of action of each of the n-3 fatty acid trio will be discussed for the major risk factors of metabolic syndrome, especially adiposity, dyslipidemia, insulin resistance and diabetes, hypertension, oxidative stress, and inflammation. Metabolism of n-3 and n-6 fatty acids as well as the interactions of n-3 fatty acids with nutrients, gene expression, and disease states will be addressed to provide a rationale for the use of n-3 fatty acids to reduce the risk factors of metabolic syndrome.
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