A considerable literature has been published on the health benefits of fish, oil-rich fish and fish oils and their constituent long-chain (LC) n-3 PUFA. Evidence from epidemiological studies highlights the cardioprotective attributes of diets rich in fish, especially oil-rich fish. Data from intervention trials are consistent in suggesting that LC n-3 PUFA lower the risk of CVD, probably by the multiple mechanisms of lowering serum triacylglycerols, improving the LDL:HDL ratio, anti-arrhythmic effects on heart muscle, improved plaque stability, anti-thrombotic effects and reduced endothelial activation.

Research indicates LC n-3 PUFA provision has an impact during development, and there is preliminary evidence that docosahexaenoic acid supplementation during pregnancy could optimise brain and retina development in the infant.

LC n-3 PUFA are also postulated to ameliorate behavioural and mental health disturbances such as depression, schizophrenia, dementia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, despite some positive evidence in each of these areas, use of LC n-3 PUFA in these conditions remains at the experimental stage.

In the case of immune function, there is little doubt that LC n-3 PUFA have a positive effect. Although intervention trials in rheumatoid arthritis show strong evidence of benefit, evidence for efficacy in other inflammatory conditions, including Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, cystic fibrosis and asthma, is inconsistent or inadequate.

More promising evidence in some conditions may come from studies which attempt to modify the fetal environment using LC n-3 PUFA supplementation during pregnancy.