Omega-3 fatty acids ameliorate vascular inflammation: A rationale for their atheroprotective effects


Background and aims

Clinical trials have demonstrated reductions in major adverse cardiovascular events with purified high-dose eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), independent of effects on lipids. We aimed to investigate whether omega-3 fatty acids reduce vascular inflammation, a critical mediator of atherosclerosis, and hypothesised that EPA is superior to docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).


In a double-blind randomised controlled trial and cell-culture study, 40 healthy volunteers were supplemented with 4 g daily of either EPA, DHA, fish oil (2:1 EPA:DHA), or placebo for 30 days. Serum was incubated with TNF-stimulated human umbilical vein endothelial cells (HUVECs), and markers of acute vascular inflammation (AVI) were measured. The effects of EPA, DHA (600 mg/kg/day), olive oil, or no treatment were also measured in preclinical models of [1] AVI using a periarterial collar (C57Bl/6J; n = 40 mice) and [2] atherosclerosis where ApoE−/− mice (n = 40) were fed a 16-week atherogenic diet.


EPA supplementation reduced expression of C–C motif chemokine ligand 2 (CCL2) by 25% compared to placebo (p = 0.03). In the AVI model, EPA reduced vascular expression of VCAM1 by 43% (p = 0.02) and CCL2 by 41% (p = 0.03). Significant inverse correlations were observed between EPA levels and vascular expression of VCAM1 (r = −0.56, p = 0.001) and CCL2 (r = −0.56, p = 0.001). In ApoE−/- mice, EPA reduced aortic expression of Il1b by 44% (p = 0.04) and Tnf by 49% (p = 0.04), with similar inverse correlations between EPA levels and both Il1b (r = −0.63, p = 0.009) and Tnf (r = −0.50, p = 0.04).


Supplementation with EPA, more so than DHA, ameliorates acute and chronic vascular inflammation, providing a rationale for the cardiovascular benefit observed with high dose omega-3 fatty acid administration.