DHA is often promoted as a dietary supplement to improve cardiovascular health. The polyunsaturated fatty acid DHA, short for docosahexaenoic acid, is found naturally in oil-rich fish, such as salmon and mackerel, along with another natural fatty acid, EPA (eicosapentanoic acid).
So researchers recently ran a study with high-triglyceride male volunteers, aged 39 to 66, to see the effect of DHA on both fasting and postmeal triglycerides and on the quantities and sizes of HDL cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and VLDL cholesterol particles.
High trigylcerides, high total cholesterol, and a high number of small particles of LDL cholesterol in the blood increase risk of cardiovascular disease.
For 90 days, half of the 34 volunteers consumed about one-half teaspoon of DHA daily, in addition to regular meals, while the other half consumed the same amount of olive oil.
Blood samples showed that DHA reduced by 22 percent the number of small LDL cholesterol particlesâ€”the size most harmful to the cardiovascular system. It also lowered triglyceride levels by 24 percent in both fasting and postmeal samples, while increasing the number of large LDL cholesterol particles by 127 percent.
Conducted by federal and university co-investigators, this is one of only about a dozen studies that have been done in humans to assess the effects of DHA by itself.
Science Update July 2008 USDA, Agricultural Research Service.
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