Effects of fish-oil supplementation on myocardial fatty acids in humans

Robert G. Metcalf, Michael J. James, Robert A. Gibson, James R M Edwards, John Stubberfield, Robert Stuklis, Kurt Roberts-Thomson, Glenn D. Young, Leslie G. Cleland

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

159 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Increased fish or fish-oil consumption is associated with reduced risk of cardiac mortality, especially sudden death. This benefit putatively arises from the incorporation of the long-chain n-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) into cardiomyocyte phospholipids. Objective: The study examined the kinetics of incorporation of n-3 fatty acids into human myocardial membrane phospholipids during supplementation with fish oil and α-linolenic acid-rich flaxseed oil. Design: Patients with low self-reported fish intake (<1 fish meal/wk and no oil supplements) accepted for elective cardiac surgery involving cardiopulmonary bypass were randomly allocated to 1 of 6 groups: no supplement; fish oil (6 g EPA+DHA/d) for either 7, 14, or 21 d before surgery; flaxseed oil; or olive oil (both 10 mL/d for 21 d before surgery). Right atrial appendage tissue removed during surgery and blood collected at enrollment and before surgery were analyzed for phospholipid fatty acids. Results: Surgery rescheduling resulted in a range of treatment times from 7 to 118 d. In the fish-oil-treated subjects, accumulation of EPA and DHA in the right atrium was curvilinear with time and reached a maximum at ≈30 d of treatment and displaced mainly arachidonic acid. Flaxseed oil supplementation yielded a small increase in atrial EPA but not DHA, whereas olive oil did not significantly change atrial n-3 fatty acids. Conclusion: The results of the present study show that dietary n-3 fatty acids are rapidly incorporated into human myocardial phospholipids at the expense of arachidonic acid during high-dose fish-oil supplementation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1222-1228
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Dietary fats
  • Fatty acids
  • Fish oils
  • Humans
  • Myocardium
  • n-3 fatty acids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics

Cite this

Metcalf, R. G., James, M. J., Gibson, R. A., Edwards, J. R. M., Stubberfield, J., Stuklis, R., ... Cleland, L. G. (2007). Effects of fish-oil supplementation on myocardial fatty acids in humans. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(5), 1222-1228. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/85.5.1222