Epidemiological studies on Greenland Inuits in the 1970s and subsequent human studies have established an inverse relationship between the ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids [C(20-22) ω 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA)], blood levels of C(20-22) ω 3 PUFA, and mortality associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD).

C(20-22) ω 3 PUFA have pleiotropic effects on cell function and regulate multiple pathways controlling blood lipids, inflammatory factors, and cellular events in cardiomyocytes and vascular endothelial cells. The hypolipemic, anti-inflammatory, anti-arrhythmic properties of these fatty acids confer cardioprotection. Accordingly, national heart associations and government agencies have recommended increased consumption of fatty fish or ω 3 PUFA supplements to prevent CVD.

In addition to fatty fish, sources of ω 3 PUFA are available from plants, algae, and yeast. A key question examined in this review is whether nonfish sources of ω 3 PUFA are as effective as fatty fish-derived C(20-22) ω 3 PUFA at managing risk factors linked to CVD. We focused on ω 3 PUFA metabolism and the capacity of ω 3 PUFA supplements to regulate key cellular events linked to CVD.

The outcome of our analysis reveals that nonfish sources of ω 3 PUFA vary in their capacity to regulate blood levels of C(20-22) ω 3 PUFA and CVD risk factors.