~ Omega 3 Fatty Acids Enhance Plaque Stability in Blood

The February 8 2003 issue of the journal The Lancet published the results of a clinical trial of omega-6 fatty and omega-3 fatty acids which found that omega-3 fatty acids helped enhance the stability of atherosclerotic plaques. Unstable plaques are more vulnerable to rupture, leading to thrombosis-mediated cardiovascular events. In this study, atherosclerotic plaques incorporated omega-3 fatty acids into their structure, which caused changes that improved their stability.

Researchers at the University of Southampton, Southampton England, randomized 162 patients scheduled for carotid endarterectomy (surgical removal of the inner layer of the artery) to receive six capsules containing fish oil that provided 1.4 grams omega-3 fatty acids, sunflower oil that provided 3.6 grams of the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid, or an oil blend designed to provide the intake of the average adult diet as a control. Participants were advised to consume the capsules daily until their surgeries.

When the arterial plaques were examined following the surgery, the researchers found that the proportions of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA were higher in the group receiving fish oil than the controls. Sunflower oil was found to have little effect on the fatty acid composition of plaques. More plaques from patients who received fish oil had thick fibrous caps and less signs of inflammation compared to the other groups, indicating greater stability. The fish oil group also had lower triglycerides after treatment than the other two groups.

A reduction in fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events has been associated with increased consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil. The enhancement of plaque stability provided by omega-3s could provide an explanation for this observation. The findings of the present study support the hypothesis that atherosclerotic plaques are dynamic and responsive to dietary modification, which can affect plaque stability. (Thies F et al, Association of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids with stability of atherosclerotic plaques: a randomized controlled trial, Lancet 2003; 361:477-85.)

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