n-3 Fatty acids and serum lipoproteins: Human studies

William S. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

533 Scopus citations


The effects of n-3 fatty acids from fish oils (eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid) and plant oils (α-linolenic acid) on human serum lipids and lipoproteins are reviewed. Studies were included in this review if they were placebo-controlled, crossover, or parallel design studies providing < 7 g n-3 fatty acids/d and with treatment periods of ≤ 2 wk duration. Only three studies were available for evaluation of the effects of α-linolenic acid on serum lipid concentrations. From these studies it appeared that α-linolenic acid (18:3n-3) was equivalent to n-6-rich oils vis-a-vis lipid and lipoprotein effects. Only when very large amounts of flaxseed oil were fed did the hallmark effect of marine n-3 fatty acids- reduced triacylglycerol concentrations-appear. Thus, in terms of effects on lipoprotein metabolism, the plant-derived n-3 fatty acid is not equivalent to the marine-based acids. More studies using the marine-based acids were examined and summarized. Both crossover (n = 36) and parallel (n = 29) design studies reached the same conclusions: total cholesterol is not materially affected by n-3 fatty acid consumption, low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations tend to rise by 5-10% and high-density- lipoprotein cholesterol by 1-3%, and serum triacylglycerol concentrations decrease by 2530%. These effects of marine n-3 fatty acids are now well- established; what remains is to determine the mechanisms behind these effects and, more importantly, their health consequences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1645S-1654S
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number5 SUPPL.
StatePublished - May 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Eicosapentaenoic acid
  • cholesterol
  • docosahexaenoic acid
  • fish oil
  • high-density lipoproteins
  • low-density lipoproteins
  • marine oil
  • n-3 fatty acids
  • plant oil
  • triacylglycerol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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