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In the years 1970, 1972 and 1976 the blood lipids in Greenlanders living in the Umanak district and the composition of their food, especially that of their dietary fat were examined in an attempt to explain the rarity of ischaemic heart disease in Greenlanders.
Decreased concentrations of serum cholesterol, triglycerides, low density and very low density lipoproteins and increased concentration of high density lipoprotein in male Eskimos were found. The fatty acid pattern of the serum lipids was different from that of Danes. Especially remarkable was the high concentration of eicosapentaenoic and low concentration of arachidonic acids compared with Danes. The serum lipids of Greenlanders living in Denmark were found similar to that of Danes.
The Eskimo food was found rich in protein and poor in carbohydrate. The fatty acid pattern of the dietary fat was similar to that found in their blood.
We could show – by in-vitro experiments – that eicosapentaenoic acid can act as precursor for thrombocyte active prostaglandins in stead of arachidonic acid in Europeans, giving rise to an inti-aggregatory prostaglandin, probably PGI3, but to no pro-aggregatory thromboxane. This causes a shift in the balance towards the anti-aggregatory – and consequently anti-thrombotic – side.
During a fourth expedition in 1978 to the Umanak district our theory from the in-vitro experiments was confirmed by in-vivo observations in the Eskimos. We found decreased platelet aggregability and increased bleeding time.
The rare incidence of ischaemic heart disease and other thrombotic diseases in Greenlanders can be explained by their low serum lipids, their high content of a-lipoprotein and – probably most important – by their special serum fatty acid pattern giving rise to a decreased platelet aggregability and consequently a decreased tendency to thrombosis.
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