OBJECTIVE: To compare the effects of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, C18:3n-3) to those of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5n-3) plus docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6n-3) on cardiovascular risk markers in healthy elderly subjects. DESIGN: A randomized double-blind nutritional intervention study. SETTING: Department of Human Biology, Maastricht University, the Netherlands. SUBJECTS: Thirty-seven mildly hypercholesterolemic subjects, 14 men and 23 women aged between 60 and 78 years. INTERVENTIONS: During a run-in period of 3 weeks, subjects consumed an oleic acid-rich diet. The following 6 weeks, 10 subjects remained on the control diet, 13 subjects consumed an ALA-rich diet (6.8 g/day) and 14 subjects an EPA/DHA-rich diet (1.05 g EPA/day + 0.55 g DHA/day). RESULTS: Both n-3 fatty acid diets did not change concentrations of total-cholesterol, LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, triacylglycerol and apoA-1 when compared with the oleic acid-rich diet. However, after the EPA/DHA-rich diet, LDL-cholesterol increased by 0.39 mmol/l (P = 0.0323, 95% CI (0.030, 0.780 mmol/l)) when compared with the ALA-rich diet. Intake of EPA/DHA also increased apoB concentrations by 14 mg/dl (P = 0.0031, 95% CI (4, 23 mg/dl)) and 12 mg/dl (P = 0.005, 95% CI (3, 21 mg/dl)) versus the oleic acid and ALA-rich diet, respectively. Except for an EPA/DHA-induced increase in tissue factor pathway inhibitor (TFPI) of 14.6% (P = 0.0184 versus ALA diet, 95% CI (1.5, 18.3%)), changes in markers of hemostasis and endothelial integrity did not reach statistical significance following consumption of the two n-3 fatty acid diets. CONCLUSIONS: In healthy elderly subjects, ALA might affect concentrations of LDL-cholesterol and apoB more favorably than EPA/DHA, whereas EPA/DHA seems to affect TFPI more beneficially.