BACKGROUND: The objective of the study was to evaluate potential benefits of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) rich fish oil supplementation as an adjunct to statin therapy for hyperlipidaemia.

METHOD: A total of 45 hyperlipidaemic patients on stable statin therapy with persistent elevation of plasma triglycerides (averaging 2.2 mmol/L) were randomised to take 4 g/day (n = 15) or 8 g/day (n = 15) of tuna oil or olive oil (placebo, n = 15) for 6 months. Plasma lipids, blood pressure and arterial compliance were assessed initially and after 3 and 6 months in 40 subjects who completed the trial.

RESULTS: Plasma triglycerides were reduced 27% by 8 g/day DHA-rich fish oil (P < 0.05) but not by 4 g/day when compared with the placebo and this reduction was achieved by 3 months and was sustained at 6 months. Even though total cholesterol was already well controlled by the statin treatment (mean initial level 4.5 mmol/L), there was a further dose-dependent reduction with fish oil supplementation (r = −0.344, P < 0.05). The extent of total cholesterol reduction correlated (r = −0.44) with the initial total cholesterol levels (P < 0.005). In the subset with initial plasma cholesterol above 3.8 mmol/L, plasma very low density lipoprotein (VLDL), intermediate-density lipoprotein (IDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) were isolated and assayed for cholesterol and apolipoprotein B (apoB) at the commencement of the trial and at 3 months of intervention.

CONCLUSION: Fish oil tended to lower cholesterol and apoB in VLDL and raise both in LDL. There were no changes in IDL cholesterol, IDL apoB and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. The results demonstrate that DHA-rich fish oil supplementation (2.16 g DHA/day) can improve plasma lipids in a dose-dependent manner in patients taking statins and these changes were achieved by 3 months. Fish oil in addition to statin therapy may be preferable to drug combinations for the treatment of combined hyperlipidaemia.