N-3 fatty acids, cardiac arrhythmia and fatal coronary heart disease

I.A. Brouwer, A. Geelen, M.B. Katan

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n-3 Polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) are suggested to prevent cardiac death via inhibition of cardiac arrhythmia. In this review we discuss the results of human studies on intake of n-3 PUFAs and heart disease and, more specifically, on cardiac arrhythmia. Observational studies indicate that intake of fish is associated with a lower incidence of fatal coronary heart disease in several populations. These studies are fairly consistent, but people that have a high intake of fatty fish might have a healthier lifestyle in general, and such confounding is difficult to remove completely with statistical adjustments and corrections. Evidence from trials is less clear. In two open label trials in patients with a previous myocardial infarction intake of fish or fish oil prevented fatal coronary heart disease. In contrast, a trial in patients with angina suggested a higher risk of sudden cardiac death in patients taking fish oil. Furthermore, results of trials in patients with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) that investigated effects of fish oil on arrhythmia in patients already suffering from ventricular tachycardia are not consistent. Also, studies on relationships between intake of n-3 PUFA from fish and less life-threatening forms of arrhythmia, such as atrial fibrillation and premature ventricular complexes (PVCs) are equivocal. Thus, after 35 years of research the question whether fish prevents heart disease remains unanswered, and an anti-arrhythmic effect of fish oil remains unproven although the idea is still viable and is being actively tested in further trials.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-67
JournalProgress in Lipid Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • dietary fish-oil
  • acute myocardial-infarction
  • rat ventricular myocytes
  • reinfarction trial dart
  • atrial-fibrillation
  • sudden-death
  • eicosapentaenoic acid
  • cardiovascular health
  • risk stratification
  • clinical-trial

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