Plasma n-3 and n-6 fatty acids and the incidence of atrial fibrillation following coronary artery bypass graft surgery


Gudrun V. Skuladottir, PhD, Department of Physiology, Faculty of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, University of Iceland, Vatnsmyrarvegur 16, IS-101 Reykjavik, Iceland. Tel: +354 525 4825; fax: +354 525 4886; e-mail:


Eur J Clin Invest 2011; 41 (9): 995–1003


Background  The anti-inflammatory or anti-arrhythmic effects of n-3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFA) may decrease the risk of postoperative atrial fibrillation (POAF), but interventional studies have yielded conflicting results. We examined the association between n-3 LC-PUFA and n-6 LC-PUFA in plasma phospholipids (PL) and POAF in patients undergoing coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG).

Methods  A total of 125 patients undergoing CABG were enrolled in the study. The levels of fatty acids in PL were measured preoperatively and on the third postoperative day. The endpoint was defined as POAF lasting ≥5 min. The incidence of POAF was compared between quartiles of the level of each fatty acid in plasma PL by univariate and multivariable analysis.

Results  The incidence of POAF was 49·6%. By univariate analysis, the incidence of POAF increased significantly with each higher quartile of pre- and postoperative docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and diminished significantly with each higher quartile of pre- and postoperative arachidonic acid (AA). For postoperative total n-3 LC-PUFA, there was a significant U-curve relationship where the second quartile had the lowest incidence of POAF or 25·8%. In multivariable analysis, this U-curve relationship between n-3 LC-PUFA levels and POAF risk was not significant, whereas the association between POAF and DHA or AA remained statistically significant.

Conclusions  This study suggests that n-3 LC-PUFA supplements might prevent POAF in CABG patients with low baseline levels of these fatty acids in plasma PL, but may be harmful in those with high levels. AA may play an important role in electrophysiological processes.