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Purpose of review: N-3 fatty acids from fish reduce cardiovascular mortality including sudden cardiac death. In this paper, the authors discuss the results of human studies with regard to the hypothesis that n-3 fatty acids reduce the risk of fatal coronary heart disease through antiarrhythmic effects.

Recent findings: Results from two recent clinical trials do not support a protective effect of n-3 fatty acids. In light of the earlier published bulk of evidence that n-3 fatty acids reduce cardiovascular mortality and sudden cardiac death, it is hard to explain these findings. Two recent observational studies confirmed that intake of n-3 fatty acids from fish is associated with less cardiovascular disease in the general population. They indicated that the protective effect of a fish meal may depend on the n-3 fatty acid content or preparation method and suggested a protective effect on arrhythmia rather than on atherosclerosis. Intervention studies on electrophysiological predictors of arrhythmia do not clearly confirm a beneficial effect of n-3 fatty acids. However, most of these studies were small or performed in healthy populations.

Summary: The available evidence still suggests that n-3 fatty acids may prevent fatal cardiac arrhythmia, but more conclusive studies are urgently needed.

(C) 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.