n-3 Fatty acids have been shown to modify several key risk factors for cardiovascular disease. However, it is not clear whether the apparent protection against cardiovascular disease is directly related to antiatherogenic functions of these fatty acids or is mediated through their modification of the risk factors through mechanisms not directly related to lipids. A major question concerns the importance of lipid modification, which is a potent outcome of fish-oil supplementation. On balance, lipid modification is likely to represent a significant antiatherogenic factor. The benefits include increased HDL(2)-cholesterol concentrations, reduced triacylglycerol-rich lipoprotein concentrations, reduced postprandial lipemia, and reduced remnant concentrations. In contrast, LDL-cholesterol concentrations have often been noted to rise and the potential of increased oxidizability of LDLs is potentially adverse with lipid modification, but this potential can be overcome with vitamin E supplementation. The characteristic lipid changes and the underlying mechanisms are reviewed. Additional benefits of fish oils include improved endothelial function and better arterial compliance (elasticity). Future trials will be needed to determine minimum effective dosages of eicosapentaenoic and docosahexaenoic acids over lengthy periods and to show cardiovascular disease reduction through intervention.

PMID: 10617976

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