The steps in the development of important medical discoveries rest first on intuition and then on associations of a certain factor with a disease, followed by scientifically designed experiments. The history of the importance of the n−3 polyunsaturated fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) illustrates this point beautifully.

Early Arctic explorers commented on the rarity of coronary artery disease in Eskimos despite their consumption of a very-high-fat, high-cholesterol diet. This finding was indeed a paradox until it was resolved by 2 Danish scientists, Bang and Dyerberg. When these investigators looked at the coronary mortality statistics in Greenland Eskimos and in Danish persons living in Greenland but having a vastly different lifestyle, they found few deaths from coronary artery disease in Greenland Eskimos but many deaths in Danes.

The answer to this riddle came from an analysis of the diet of the Eskimos compared with that of the Danes. The latter group ate a diet high in saturated fat and cholesterol from meat and dairy products similar to the diet eaten in the homeland of Denmark. The Eskimos, on the other hand, ate seal, whale, and fish, all of which are extremely rich in EPA and DHA. This was in contrast with the lower n−3 fatty acid content of the typical Danish diet.

In the Greenland Eskimos also, the content of these same n−3 fatty acids in the blood was high, and the tendency of the blood to form thrombi was lessened because the n−3 fatty acids were taken up by the blood platelets

PMID: 11566636

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