The acute-phase reactant C-reactive protein (CRP) has emerged as an independent risk factor for coronary artery disease. Experimental and clinical studies provide evidence of anti-inflammatory effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) derived from fish.

We have studied the effect of marine n-3 PUFA on CRP levels in 269 patients referred for coronary angiography because of clinical suspicion of coronary artery disease. All patients filled out a food questionnaire regarding fish intake.

The n-3 PUFA content of granulocyte membranes was determined and the concentration of CRP in serum was measured using a highly sensitive assay. The results were related to angiographic findings. CRP was significantly higher in patients with significant coronary stenoses than in those with no significant angiographic changes (p <0.001), but the CRP levels were not associated with the number of diseased vessels.

Subjects with CRP levels in the lower quartile had a significantly higher content of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) in granulocytes than subjects with CRP levels in the upper quartile (p = 0.02), and in a multivariate linear regression analysis, DHA was independently correlated to CRP (R(2) = 0.179; p = 0.003).

The inverse correlation between CRP and DHA may reflect an anti-inflammatory effect of DHA in patients with stable coronary artery disease and suggest a novel mechanism by which fish consumption may decrease the risk of coronary artery disease.