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New study suggests gender-specific omega-3 roles

By Nathan Gray , 17-Aug-2010

The omenga-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA may have gender-specific effects on blood platelet aggregation, researchers in Australia have found.

The study, published in Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, suggests that differences in how males and females process eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) could affect platelet aggregation – due to interactions with sex hormones.

“The distinctive gender-specific, inhibitory response pattern observed in our study suggests that males may benefit more from EPA supplementation while females are more responsive to DHA,” wrote the researchers, led by Monohar Garg from the University of Newcastle in Australia.

The results may have implications for how omega-3’s are formulated in certain supplements.

Clot development

Platelets are mainly responsible for blood clot development and wound healing, but are also involved in the processes of thrombus formation and blood vessel blockage.

There has been a growing demand for the use of non-medical anti-platelet agents, focusing in particular on supplementation with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids like EPA and DHA.

Previous research has shown omega-3 to have a protective role over thrombotic events; although it remains unclear which forms of omega-3 are the most advantageous.

The majority of studies on omega-3 supplements use fish oil containing both EPA and DHA, however recent research has suggested that EPA and DHA have different – gender specific – roles.

Gender bias

The aim of the new study was to establish whether previously observed gender biases effect platelet aggregation.

Thirty healthy participants were given a single dose of either EPA or DHA rich oil, and assessed over 24 hours.

The study saw that both EPA and DHA fatty acids reduced platelet aggregation, but when the data was separated into gender groups the responses were divided according to the suggestions of previous research.

EPA was seen to be highly effective in males when compared to DHA and placebo, whereas in females it was DHA that was found to be significantly more effective than EPA and placebo.

“We have shown that gender-specific responses exist in platelet aggregation in the 24 h following dietary supplementation with a single oral dose of EPA or DHA rich oil capsules. - These data confirm our previous observations..,” stated the researchers.

Changing delivery

The researchers put forward that the observed gender differences may be down to interactions between EPA/DHA and sex hormones.

“Interactions between sex hormones and omega-3 fatty acids exist to differentially reduce platelet aggregation. For healthy individuals, males may benefit more from EPA supplementation while females are more responsive to DHA,” wrote the researchers

The findings of the study could see a change in how omega-3’s are delivered in dietary supplements.

Source: Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.numecd.2010.04.012
“Gender-specific inhibition of platelet aggregation following omega-3 fatty acid supplementation”
Authors: M. Phang, A.J. Sinclair, L.F. Lincz, M.L. Garg

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