The differential effects of EPA and DHA on cardiovascular risk factors

S. C. Cottin*, T. A. Sanders, W. L. Hall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

161 Citations (Scopus)


Compelling evidence exists for the cardioprotective benefits resulting from consumption of fatty acids from fish oils, EPA (20:5n-3) and DHA (22:6n-3). EPA and DHA alter membrane fluidity, interact with transcription factors such as PPAR and sterol regulatory element binding protein, and are substrates for enzymes including cyclooxygenase, lipoxygenase and cytochrome P450. As a result, fish oils may improve cardiovascular health by altering lipid metabolism, inducing haemodynamic changes, decreasing arrhythmias, modulating platelet function, improving endothelial function and inhibiting inflammatory pathways. The independent effects of EPA and DHA are poorly understood. While both EPA and DHA decrease TAG levels, only DHA appears to increase HDL and LDL particle size. Evidence to date suggests that DHA is more efficient in decreasing blood pressure, heart rate and platelet aggregation compared to EPA. Fish oil consumption appears to improve arterial compliance and endothelial function; it is not yet clear as to whether differences exist between EPA and DHA in their vascular effects. In contrast, the beneficial effect of fish oils on inflammation and insulin sensitivity observed in vitro and in animal studies has not been confirmed in human subjects. Further investigation to clarify the relative effects of consuming EPA and DHA at a range of doses would enable elaboration of current understanding regarding cardioprotective effects of consuming oily fish and algal sources of long chain n-3 PUFA, and provide clearer evidence for the clinical therapeutic potential of consuming either EPA or DHA-rich oils.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)215-231
Number of pages17
JournalProceedings of the Nutrition Society
Issue number2
Early online date24 Feb 2011
Publication statusPublished - May 2011
Externally publishedYes
EventSymposium on Nutrition - Getting the Balance Right in 2010 - Coleraine, Ireland
Duration: 16 Jun 201018 Jun 2010


  • EPA
  • DHA
  • n-3 fatty acids
  • Cardiovascular risk
  • Vascular function


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