Aims: To overview the effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) on blood vessels and blood pressure (BP) and their relevance for cardiovascular prevention.
Data synthesis: The importance of omega-3 PUFA for the cardiovascular system has come under the spotlight during the last decades. These fatty acids are present in variable amounts in cell membranes of mammal species, and their content affects a variety of cellular functions. Evidence obtained in animal and human studies suggests that omega-3 PUFA affect many steps of the atherosclerotic process. In blood vessels, omega-3 PUFA improve endothelial function; promote vasodilatation through relaxation of smooth muscle cells; exert antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antithrombotic actions; delay development of plaques and increase their stability; and decrease wall stiffening. Omega-3 PUFA might affect BP, and studies conducted with ambulatory monitoring suggest that supplementation with these fatty acids decreases the average 24-h BP levels. This effect on BP is related to the pretreatment membrane content of omega-3 PUFA, and this might explain some inconsistencies among intervention trials. Meta-analyses indicate that omega-3 PUFA have a mild but significant BP lowering effect. While encouraging results were initially obtained with the use of omega-3 PUFA supplements in secondary prevention trials, meta-analyses have not confirmed the ability of these fatty acids to decrease the risk of coronary heart and cerebrovascular disease.
Conclusions: Omega-3 PUFA are associated with significant improvement in vascular function and lowering of BP. However, the evidence currently supporting the role of these fatty acids in cardiovascular prevention is weak and needs further investigation.
Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Cardiovascular risk; Fatty acids; Hypertension; Meta-analysis.
Copyright © 2016 The Italian Society of Diabetology, the Italian Society for the Study of Atherosclerosis, the Italian Society of Human Nutrition, and the Department of Clinical Medicine and Surgery, Federico II University. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.