Modulation of heart rate and heart rate variability by n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids: Speculation on mechanism(s)

Med Hypotheses. 2017 Sep;107:29-34. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2017.07.011. Epub 2017 Jul 13.


Heart rate (HR) and heart rate variability (HRV) are valuable markers of health. Although the underlying mechanism(s) are controversial, it is well documented that n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid (LCPUFA) intake improves HR and HRV in various populations. Autonomic modulation and/or alterations in cardiac electrophysiology are commonly cited as potential mechanisms responsible for these effects. This article reviews existing evidence for each and explores a separate mechanism which has not received much attention but has scientific merit. Based on presented evidence, it is proposed that n-3 LCPUFAs affect HR and HRV directly by autonomic modulation and indirectly by altering circulating factors, both dependently and independently of the autonomic nervous system. The evidence for changes in cardiac electrophysiology as the mechanism by which n-3 LCPUFAs affect HR and HRV needs strengthening.

Keywords: Autonomic nervous system; Cytokines; Docosahexaenoic acid; Heart rate; Heart rate variability; Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Autonomic Nervous System / drug effects
  • Autonomic Nervous System / growth & development
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Catecholamines / blood
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Heart Rate / drug effects*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Cardiovascular
  • Sinoatrial Node / innervation


  • Catecholamines
  • Cytokines
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3