The two marine omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), prevalent in fish and fish oils, have been investigated as a strategy towards prophylaxis of atherosclerosis. While the results with fish and fish oils have been not as clear cut, the data generated with the purified ethyl ester forms of these two fatty acids are consistent. Although slight differences in biological activity exist between EPA and DHA, both exert a number of positive actions against atherosclerosis and its complications.

EPA and DHA as ethyl esters inhibit platelet aggregability, and reduce serum triglycerides, while leaving other serum lipids essentially unaltered. Glucose metabolism has been studied extensively, and no adverse effects were seen. Pro-atherogenic cytokines are reduced, as are markers of endothelial activation. Endothelial function is improved, vascular occlusion is reduced, and the course of coronary atherosclerosis is mitigated. Heart rate is reduced, and heart rate variability is increased by EPA and DHA.

An antiarrhythmic effect can be demonstrated on the supraventricular and the ventricular level. More importantly, two large studies showed reductions in clinical endpoints like sudden cardiac death or major adverse cardiac events.

As a consequence, relevant cardiac societies recommend using 1 g/day of EPA and DHA for cardiovascular prevention, after a myocardial infarction and for prevention of sudden cardiac death.