The hemodynamic effects of highly purified eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) have not been evaluated in humans. We therefore conducted a randomized, double-blind, parallel-design intervention study to assess possible separate effects of EPA and DHA on blood pressure, heart rate, and cardiac mechanics.

Healthy, nonsmoking men aged 36-56 y (n = 224) were randomly assigned to dietary supplementation with 4 g/d of ethyl ester concentrates of DHA or EPA or 4 g corn oil/d (control). Mean blood pressure at baseline was 122/77 mm Hg and was positively associated with concentrations of serum phospholipid saturated fatty acids. Blood pressure did not change during the intervention. Mean heart rate at baseline was 63.4 beats/min; it decreased 2.2 beats/min in the DHA group (P = 0.006 compared with control), increased 1.9 beats/min in the EPA group (P = 0.04 compared with control), and remained practically unchanged in the control group.

In a pooled analysis, changes in heart rate were independent of baseline heart rate and were associated with changes in concentrations of serum phospholipid DHA and docosapentaenoic acid (22:5n-3). Echocardiography in a subsample of 52 men showed improved left ventricular diastolic filling in the marine oil groups compared with the corn oil group (P = 0.02). In contrast, an increase in plasma concentrations of saturated fatty acids was associated with delayed diastolic filling.

We conclude that dietary DHA and EPA influence heart rate and that the fatty acid composition of plasma phospholipids may affect cardiac mechanics in humans.