Proceedings of the Nutrition Society

The 5th International Immunonutrition Workshop, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.6–8 April 2011,

5th International Immunonutrition Workshop

Chronic and degenerative diseases

Similarities and differences between the effects of EPA and DHA on markers of atherosclerosis in human subjects*

Darshan S. Kelleya1 c1 and Yuriko Adkinsa1

a1 Western Human Nutrition Research Center, ARS, USDA, and Department of Nutrition, University of California Davis, CA 95616, USA


We have reviewed effects of long chain (LC) n-3 PUFA on markers of atherosclerosis in human subjects with a focus on individual effects of EPA and DHA. Initial results from epidemiological studies suggested that LC n-3 PUFA from fish oils (FO) reduced incidence of CVD; those results have been confirmed in interventional studies. Dietary intervention with n-3 PUFA decreased fasting and postprandial TAG, number of remnant-like chylomicron particles, large VLDL, and total and small dense LDL particles. It increased mean size of LDL particles by increasing number of large and decreasing those of small dense particles. With some exceptions, n-3 PUFA decreased blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR), flow-mediated dilation (FMD) and plasma concentrations of inflammatory markers. n-3 PUFA also decreased circulating adhesion molecules and intima-media thickness (IMT) in some but not other studies. For IMT, results varied with the sex and artery being examined. EPA effects on FMD are endothelial cell dependent, while those of DHA seem to be endothelial cell independent. Individually, both EPA and DHA decreased TAG and inflammatory markers, but only DHA decreased HR, BP and number of small dense LDL particles. Results varied because of dose and duration of n-3 PUFA, EPA:DHA, health status of subjects and other reasons. Future studies are needed to determine optimal doses of EPA and DHA individually, their synergistic, additive or antagonistic effects, and to understand underlying mechanisms. In conclusion, n-3 PUFA decreased several risk factors for atherosclerosis without any serious adverse effects.

(Online publication February 28 2012)


c1 Corresponding author: Dr Darshan S. Kelley, fax +1 530 752 5271, email


* Reference to a company or product name does not imply approval or recommendation of the product by the US Department of Agriculture to the exclusion of others that may be suitable. US Department of Agriculture is an equal opportunity employer.