Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Biological Sciences (PhD)

College, School or Department Name

Department of Biological Sciences


Jason Robert Carter


Hypertension is the most prevalent form of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the world, and is known to increase the risk for developing other diseases. Recently, the American Heart Association introduced a new classification of blood pressure, prehypertension (PHT). The criteria for PHT include a systolic of 120-139 mmHg and/or a diastolic blood pressure of 80-89 mmHg. It has been observed that individuals with PHT have a higher risk of developing hypertension later in life. Therefore, it is important to understand the mechanisms contributing to PHT in order to possibly prevent hypertension. Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils have been suggested as a means of lowering blood pressure. However, little is known on the effects of fish oil in PHT humans. Therefore we conducted two studies. In Study 1 we investigated PHT and normotensive (NT) individuals during a mental stress task. Mental stress is known to contribute to the development of hypertension. In Study 2 PHT and NT subjects were placed in an eight week double-blind placebo controlled study in which subjects consumed 9g/day of either fish oil or placebo (olive oil) in addition to their regular diets. Subjects were tested during a resting baseline (seated and supine), 5 minutes of a mental stress task, and 5 minutes of recovery both pre and post supplementation. We measured arterial pressure (AP), heart rate (HR), muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA), and forearm and calf vascular responses. In Study 1 PHT demonstrated augmented AP and blunted vasodilation during mental stress, but MSNA did not change. In Study 2, fish oil did not directly influence blood pressure, MSNA or vascular responses to mental stress. However, it became clear that fish oil had an effect on some but not all subjects (both PHT and NT). Specifically, subjects who experienced a reduced blood pressure response to fish oil also demonstrated a decrease in MSNA and HR during mental stress. Collectively, the investigations in this dissertation had several novel findings. First, PHT individuals demonstrate an augmented pressor and blunted vascular response to mental stress, a response that may be contributing to the development of hypertension. Second, fish oil does not consistently lower resting blood pressure, but the interindividual responses may be related to MSNA. Third, fish oil attenuated the heart rate and MSNA responses and to mental stress in both PHT and NT. In conclusion, we found that there are both similarities and differences in the way PHT and NT individuals respond to mental stress and fish oil.

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