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Emergence of omega-3 fatty acids in biomedical research

  • Arthur A. Spector
    Correspondence
    Corresponding author.
    Affiliations
    Laboratory of Molecular Signaling, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, 5625 Fishers Lane, Room 3N07, Bethesda, MD 20892-9410, United States
    Search for articles by this author
  • Hee-Yong Kim
    Affiliations
    Laboratory of Molecular Signaling, National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health, 5625 Fishers Lane, Room 3N07, Bethesda, MD 20892-9410, United States
    Search for articles by this author
Published:December 03, 2018DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.plefa.2018.11.017

      Highlights

      • The importance of omega-3 fatty acids was overlooked for more than 40 years after the discovery of essential fatty acids.
      • The breakthrough came in the 1970 s when Dyerberg and Bang reported that the very low incidence of coronary artery disease in the Greenland Eskimos was due to the high marine lipid content of their diet and linked the protection to the anti-thrombotic effect of EPA.

      ABSTRACT

      Shortly after the discovery that linoleic acid was an essential fatty acid in 1930, α-linolenic acid also was reported to prevent the fatty acid deficiency syndrome in animals. However, several prominent laboratories could not confirm the findings with α-linolenic acid, and as a result there was a loss of interest in omega-3 fatty acids in lipid research. Even the findings that a prostaglandin can be synthesized from eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is necessary for optimum retinal function generated only limited interest in omega-3 fatty acids. The breakthrough came in the 1970s when Dyerberg and Bang reported that the low incidence of atherosclerotic coronary disease in Greenland Eskimos was due to the high marine lipid content of their diet. They subsequently found that EPA, which was increased in Eskimo plasma, inhibited platelet aggregation, and they concluded that the low incidence of coronary artery disease was due to the anti-thrombotic effect of EPA. This stimulated widespread interest and research in EPA and DHA, leading to the present view that, like their omega-6 counterparts, omega-3 fatty acids have important physiological functions and are essential fatty acids.

      Keywords

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