Background: In a meta-analysis of 31 placebo-controlled trials on 1356 subjects, we examined the effect of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil on blood pressure by grouping studies that were similar in fish oil dose, length of treatment, health of the subjects, or study design.
Methods and results: The mean reduction in blood pressure caused by fish oil for the 31 studies was -3.0/-1.5 mm Hg (95% confidence intervals: systolic blood pressure: -4.5, -1.5; diastolic blood pressure: -2.2, -0.8). There was a statistically significant dose-response effect when studies were grouped by omega-3 fatty acid dose: -1.3/-0.7 mm Hg at doses < or = 3 g/d, -2.9/-1.6 mm Hg at 3.3 to 7 g/d, and -8.1/-5.8 mm Hg at 15 g/d. Both eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid were significantly related to blood pressure response. There was no effect on blood pressure in eight studies of "healthy" persons (mean reduction, -0.4/-0.7 mm Hg) at an overall mean dose of 4.2 g omega-3 fatty acids/d. By contrast, there was a significant effect of -3.4/-2.0 mm Hg in the group of hypertensive studies with a mean fish oil dose of 5.6 g/d and on systolic blood pressure only in six studies of hypercholesterolemic patients (-4.4/-1.1 mm Hg) with a mean dose of 4.0 g/d. A nonsignificant decrease in blood pressure was observed in four studies of patients with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (-6.3/-2.9 mm Hg). Variations in the length of treatment (from 3 to 24 weeks), type of placebo, and study design (crossover or parallel groups) did not appear to account for inconsistent findings among studies.
Conclusions: There is a dose-response effect of fish oil on blood pressure of -0.66/-0.35 mm Hg/g omega-3 fatty acids. The hypotensive effect may be strongest in hypertensive subjects and those with clinical atherosclerotic disease or hypercholesterolemia.