Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil have been suggested to protect against cardiovascular disease, yet underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Despite the well documented link between mental stress and cardiovascular risk, no study has examined neural cardiovascular reactivity to mental stress after fish oil supplementation.

We hypothesized that fish oil would blunt the blood pressure, heart rate (HR), and muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) responsiveness to mental stress and/or augment limb vasodilation associated with mental stress.

Blood pressure, HR, MSNA, forearm vascular conductance (FVC) and calf vascular conductance (CVC) responses were recorded during a 5 minute mental stress protocol in 67 non-hypertensive subjects before and after 8 weeks of fish oil (n=33) or placebo supplementation (n=34). Fish oil blunted HR reactivity to mental stress (group x condition x time interactions, P=0.012), but did not alter blood pressure reactivity to mental stress (interactions, P>0.05). Fish oil blunted total MSNA reactivity to mental stress (interaction, P=0.039), but did not alter MSNA burst frequency and burst incidence reactivity (interactions, P>0.05). Finally, fish oil significantly blunted CVC reactivity to mental stress (interaction, P=0.013), but did not alter FVC reactivity (interaction, P>0.05).

In conclusion, 8 weeks of fish oil supplementation significantly attenuated both HR and total MSNA reactivity to mental stress, and elicited a paradoxical blunting of calf vascular conductance.

These findings support and extend the growing evidence that fish oil may have positive health benefits regarding neural cardiovascular control in humans.