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Antiatherosclerotic and Antithrombotic Effects of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

      Omega-3 fatty acids from both marine and plant sources have been shown to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease death. Although their beneficial cardiovascular effects are thought to be due to their antiarrhythmic properties, omega-3 fatty acids also have been shown to have a wide range of antiatherosclerotic and antithrombotic effects in animal and human studies. Review of the findings of randomized, controlled trials published through August 2005 shows that omega-3 fatty acids of marine origin consistently lower elevated plasma triglyceride levels in a dose-dependent fashion, with greater efficacy at higher triglyceride levels. Smaller effects on lowering blood pressure, improving endothelial function, and increasing plasma levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol were also found. No consistent effects on other lipid, hemostatic, inflammatory, glucose tolerance, or plaque stabilization parameters were found. Epidemiologic studies show more consistent reductions in the incidence of nonfatal myocardial infarction and ischemic stroke than do the clinical trials of increased omega-3 fatty acid intake, which suggests important confounding factors in observational studies. Ongoing clinical trials may clarify the non-antiarrhythmic benefits of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation.
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