An epidemiological study of Greenlandic Inuit suggested that fish oil, or omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), was important in preventing atherosclerotic disease. After this landmark study, many large-scale epidemiological studies and meta-analyses have examined the health benefits of omega-3 PUFA as part of a fatty acid-rich diet to demonstrate its beneficial roles in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. Recent research has also focused attention on the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3 PUFA and on specialized pro-resolving mediators. Findings of these studies have led to the development of omega-3 PUFA preparations for the treatment of dyslipidemia, including a highly purified eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)-ethyl ester product in Japan and an EPA/docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) preparation in the United States and Europe. Although various large-scale clinical trials on the cardiovascular preventive effect of omega-3 PUFA were conducted and reported, the results were not always consistent. The issues of not targeting subjects with hypertriglyceridemia and using low dose of omega-3 PUFA have been suggested to contribute to the failure of demonstrating the preventive effect of omega-3 PUFA in these clinical trials. Taking into account the above issues, the REDUCE-IT trial evaluated a highly purified EPA preparation at a high dose of 4 g/day in patients with hypertriglyceridemia and high cardiovascular risk, and demonstrated an extraordinary outcome of 25% relative reduction in cardiovascular events. This article reviews studies on omega-3 fatty acids during the last 50 years, including the progress in elucidating molecular mechanisms and recent large-scale clinical studies.
Cardiovascular disease; Fatty acid metabolism; Large-scale clinical trial; Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids