DHA-Rich Fish Oil Increases the Omega-3 Index in Healthy Adults and Slows Resting Heart Rate without Altering Cardiac Autonomic Reflex Modulation

Publication Name

Journal of the American College of Nutrition


Background: Regular fish consumption, a rich source of long-chain omega-3 (ω-3) docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), modifies cardiac electrophysiology. However, human studies investigating fish oil and cardiac electrophysiology have predominantly supplemented therapeutic (high) doses of fish oil (often ω-3 eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) rich sources). This study examined whether non-therapeutic doses of DHA-rich fish oil modulate cardiac electrophysiology at rest and during cardiovascular reflex challenges to the same extent, if at all, in young healthy adults. Materials: Participants (N = 20) were supplemented (double-blinded) with (2x1g.day−1) soy oil (Control n = 9) or DHA-rich tuna fish oil (FO n = 11) providing DHA: 560 mg and EPA: 140 mg. The Omega-3 Index (O3I; erythrocyte membrane % EPA + DHA), heart rate (HR) and HR variability (HRV) were analyzed during rest, maximal isometric handgrip and cold diving reflex challenges at baseline and following 8 weeks. Results: The baseline O3I (Control: 5.1 ± 1.0; FO: 5.4 ± 0.9; P > 0.05), resting HR (Control: 65 ± 12bpm; FO: 66 ± 8bpm; P > 0.05) and HRV metrics did not significantly differ between the groups prior to supplementation. Relative to the control group, the O3I was increased (Control: 5.0 ± 1.1; FO: 7.8 ± 1.2; P < 0.001), and resting HR was slowed in the FO group following supplementation (Control: 66 ± 9bpm; FO: 61 ± 6bpm; P = 0.046). However, no significant (P > 0.05) between-group differences were observed in HR responsiveness or any indices of HRV during reflex challenges. Conclusions: In young healthy adults, dietary achievable doses of ω-3 DHA-rich fish oil exerted a direct slowing effect on resting HR, without compromising the HR response to either dominant sympathetic or parasympathetic modulation.

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