Emergence of omega-3 fatty acids in biomedical research

Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2019 Jan:140:47-50. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2018.11.017. Epub 2018 Dec 3.


Shortly after the discovery that linoleic acid was an essential fatty acid in 1930, α-linolenic acid also was reported to prevent the fatty acid deficiency syndrome in animals. However, several prominent laboratories could not confirm the findings with α-linolenic acid, and as a result there was a loss of interest in omega-3 fatty acids in lipid research. Even the findings that a prostaglandin can be synthesized from eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is necessary for optimum retinal function generated only limited interest in omega-3 fatty acids. The breakthrough came in the 1970s when Dyerberg and Bang reported that the low incidence of atherosclerotic coronary disease in Greenland Eskimos was due to the high marine lipid content of their diet. They subsequently found that EPA, which was increased in Eskimo plasma, inhibited platelet aggregation, and they concluded that the low incidence of coronary artery disease was due to the anti-thrombotic effect of EPA. This stimulated widespread interest and research in EPA and DHA, leading to the present view that, like their omega-6 counterparts, omega-3 fatty acids have important physiological functions and are essential fatty acids.

Keywords: Arachidonic acid; Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA); Essential fatty acid; Fatty acid deficiency syndrome; Linoleic acid; α-linolenic acid.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acid / physiology
  • Biomedical Research*
  • Coronary Artery Disease / blood
  • Coronary Thrombosis / blood
  • Diet
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / physiology*
  • Fibrinolytic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Inuit
  • Linoleic Acid / physiology
  • Platelet Aggregation / drug effects
  • Platelet Aggregation / physiology
  • Rats


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fibrinolytic Agents
  • Arachidonic Acid
  • Linoleic Acid