MAGGIE B. COVINGTON, M.D., University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to significantly reduce the risk for sudden death caused by cardiac arrhythmias and all-cause mortality in patients with known coronary heart disease. Fatty fish, such as salmon and tuna, and fish oil are rich sources of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. Flaxseed, canola oil, and walnuts also are good dietary sources of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition to being antiarrhythmic, the omega-3 fatty acids are antithrombotic and anti-inflammatory. In contrast, omega-6 fatty acids, which are present in most seeds, vegetable oils, and meat, are prothrombotic and proinflammatory. Omega-3 fatty acids also are used to treat hyperlipidemia, hypertension, and rheumatoid arthritis. There are no significant drug interactions with omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association recommends consumption of two servings of fish per week for persons with no history of coronary heart disease and at least one serving of fish daily for those with known coronary heart disease. Approximately 1 g per day of eicosapentaenoic acid plus docosahexaenoic acid is recommended for cardioprotection. Higher dosages of omega-3 fatty acids are required to reduce elevated triglyceride levels (2 to 4 g per day) and to reduce morning stiffness and the number of tender joints in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (at least 3 g per day). Modest decreases in blood pressure occur with significantly higher dosages of omega-3 fatty acids.