Docosahexaenoic acid supplementation, vascular function and risk factors for cardiovascular disease: a randomized controlled trial in young adults

J Am Heart Assoc. 2013 Jul 1;2(4):e000283. doi: 10.1161/JAHA.113.000283.


Background: A high consumption of omega-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, and particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), has been suggested to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). However, while DHA supplementation may have benefits for secondary prevention, few studies have investigated the role of DHA in the primary prevention of CVD. Here, we tested the hypothesis that DHA supplementation improves endothelial function and risk factors for CVD.

Methods and results: Healthy volunteers (n=328), aged 18 to 37 years, were randomly assigned to 1.6 g DHA/day (from a microalgae source) together with 2.4 g/day carrier oil (index group) or to 4.0 g/day olive oil (control) (both given in eight 500-mg capsules/day for 16 weeks). Flow-mediated endothelium-dependent vasodilation (FMD) of the brachial artery (primary outcome) was measured before and after the intervention (n=268) using high-resolution vascular ultrasound. FMD was the same in both groups at randomization (mean, SD; 0.27, 0.1 mm), but postintervention was higher in the control group (0.29, 0.1 mm) compared with the DHA-supplemented group (0.26, 0.1 mm; mean difference -0.03 mm; 95% CI -0.005 to -0.06 mm; P=0.02). Of other outcomes, only triglyceride (mean difference -28%, 95% CI -40% to -15%; P<0.0001) and very low-density lipoprotein concentrations were significant lower in DHA-supplemented individuals compared with controls.

Conclusions: DHA supplementation did not improve endothelial function in healthy, young adults. Nevertheless, lower triglyceride concentrations with DHA supplementation was consistent with previous reports and could have benefits for the prevention of CVD.

Keywords: atherosclerosis; docosahexaenoic acid; endothelial function.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Brachial Artery / diagnostic imaging
  • Brachial Artery / drug effects*
  • Brachial Artery / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / blood
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Dietary Supplements* / adverse effects
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / adverse effects
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / therapeutic use*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Endothelium, Vascular / drug effects*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Lipoproteins, VLDL / blood
  • London
  • Male
  • Primary Prevention / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Triglycerides / blood
  • Ultrasonography
  • Vasodilation / drug effects*
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers
  • Lipoproteins, VLDL
  • Triglycerides
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN19987575