Review of Cardiometabolic Effects of Prescription Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Curr Atheroscler Rep. 2017 Nov 7;19(12):60. doi: 10.1007/s11883-017-0700-z.


Purpose of review: Populations with significant dietary fish intake tend to have lower cardiovascular (CV) risk and demonstrable physiologic differences including lower lipid/lipoprotein levels and other direct and indirect effects on the arterial wall and inhibiting factors that promote atherosclerosis. Treatment with high doses of pharmacologic-grade omega-3 fatty acid (n-3FA) supplements achieves significant reductions in triglycerides (TG), non-high-density lipoprotein- (non-HDL-) and TG-rich lipoprotein- (TRL-) cholesterol levels. n-3FA supplements have significant effects on markers of atherosclerosis risk including endothelial function, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation, cellular and humoral markers of inflammation, hemodynamic factors, and plaque stabilization. This review summarizes the lipid and cardiometabolic effects of prescription-grade n-3FAs and will discuss clinical trials, national/organizational guidelines, and expert opinion on the impact of supplemental n-3FAs on CV health and disease.

Recent findings: Clinical trial evidence supports use of n-3FAs in individuals with established atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), but the data either does not support or is lacking for other types of cardiometabolic risk including prevention of stroke, treatment in patients with heart failure, diabetes mellitus and prediabetes, and for primary prevention in the general population. Despite inconsistent findings to support widespread benefit, there is persistent population-wide enthusiasm for n-3FA as a dietary supplement for its cardiometabolic benefits. Fortunately, there are ongoing clinical trials to assess whether the lipid/lipoprotein benefits may be extended to other at-risk populations and whether lower-dose therapy may provide background benefit for primary prevention of ASCVD.

Keywords: Alpha-linolenic acid (ALA); Dietary supplement; Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); Ethyl ester (EE); Fatty acid (FA); Free FA (FFA); Linoleic acid (LA); Omega-3 FA (n-3FA); Triglycerides (TG).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / drug therapy*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Diseases / drug therapy*


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3