BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Increased platelet aggregation is a major risk factor for heart attacks, stroke and thrombosis. Long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCn-3PUFA; eicosapentaenoic acid, EPA; docosahexaenoic acid, DHA) reduce platelet aggregation; however studies in the published literature involving EPA and/or DHA supplementation have yielded equivocal results. Recent in vitro studies have demonstrated that inhibition of platelet aggregation by LCn-3PUFA is gender specific. We examined the acute effects of dietary supplementation with EPA or DHA rich oils on platelet aggregation in healthy male and females.

METHODS AND RESULTS: A blinded placebo controlled trial involving 15 male and 15 female subjects. Platelet aggregation was measured at 0, 2, 5 and 24 h post-supplementation with a single dose of either a placebo or EPA or DHA rich oil capsules. The relationship between LCn-3PUFA and platelet activity at each time point was examined according to gender vs. treatment. EPA was significantly the most effective in reducing platelet aggregation in males at 2, 5 and 24 h post-supplementation (-11%, -10.6%, -20.5% respectively) whereas DHA was not effective relative to placebo. In contrast, in females, DHA significantly reduced platelet aggregation at 24 h (-13.7%) while EPA was not effective. An inverse relationship between testosterone levels and platelet aggregation following EPA supplementation was observed.

CONCLUSION: Interactions between sex hormones and omega-3 fatty acids exist to differentially reduce platelet aggregation. For healthy individuals, males may benefit more from EPA supplementation while females are more responsive to DHA.