The effects of dietary omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on erythrocyte membrane phospholipids, erythrocyte deformability and blood viscosity in healthy volunteers

Atherosclerosis. 1985 Jun;55(3):267-81. doi: 10.1016/0021-9150(85)90106-6.


We have examined, in normal subjects, the effects of a daily dietary supplement of fish oil concentrate ('maxEPA'), providing 3 g of omega-3 fatty acids, on erythrocyte membrane phospholipids, erythrocyte deformability and blood viscosity. After 3 weeks, incorporation of C20:5 omega 3 into erythrocyte phosphatidyl choline (PC) was greater compared to phosphatidyl ethanolamine (PE) and phosphatidyl serine (PS). After 6 weeks, there was no further increase in total erythrocyte C20:5 omega 3, but its distribution amongst phospholipid subclasses had changed. C20:5 omega 3 had increased further in PE and PS, but decreased in PC. Incorporation of C20:5 omega 3 also occurred into PC, PE and PS. omega-3 Fatty acids were incorporated almost entirely at the expense of C18:2 omega 6, but total unsaturation of phospholipids was increased. This is consistent with increased lipid fluidity, which may be an important determinant of erythrocyte deformability. The same dosage of maxEPA also resulted in a significant increase in erythrocyte deformability and a concomitant reduction in whole blood viscosity. Since plasma viscosity and haematocrit were unchanged it seems likely that the effects on blood rheology were mediated by changes in erythrocyte lipid fluidity. Modification of blood rheology by dietary omega-3 fatty acids is of potential value in the treatment of vascular disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blood Viscosity / drug effects*
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids*
  • Drug Combinations
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid*
  • Erythrocyte Deformability / drug effects*
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / analysis
  • Erythrocyte Membrane / drug effects*
  • Fatty Acids / blood
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / administration & dosage
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / pharmacology*
  • Fish Oils / administration & dosage*
  • Hematocrit
  • Humans
  • Membrane Fluidity / drug effects
  • Phospholipids / blood


  • Drug Combinations
  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Fish Oils
  • Maxepa
  • Phospholipids
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid