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The postulated antihypertensive effect of dietary fish oil and the influence of dietary sodium on this effect were evaluated in young stroke-prone spontaneously hypertensive rats (SHRSP) by direct intra-arterial measurement of blood pressure. Weaning rats were fed synthetic diets containing olive oil or eicosapentaenoic acid-enriched fish oil (5% of dry weight) with normal (0.23%) or high (2.8%) sodium content. Catheters were implanted after 3 months for blood pressure measurement under resting conditions and to sample blood for catecholamine determinations. Effects of fish oil on vascular reactivity were assessed in the in situ blood-perfused mesentery. The overall observation, from a series of experiments, was that feeding diets containing 5% fish oil to young SHRSP resulted in a small but consistent suppression of the development of hypertension. This effect could be counteracted, however, by increasing dietary sodium intake. Observations after ganglion blockade indicate that the antihypertensive effect of fish oil is unlikely to result from a reduction in sympathetic vascular tone.