Conversion of -linolenic acid to longer-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in human adultsGraham C. Burdge and Philip C. Calder
Institute of Human Nutrition, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
(Received 21 February 2005; accepted 7 April 2005)
Abstract - The principal biological role of -linolenic acid (LNA; 18:3n-3) appears to be as a precursor for the synthesis of longer chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Increasing LNA intake for a period of weeks to months results in an increase in the proportion of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA; 20:5n-3) in plasma lipids, in erythrocytes, leukocytes, platelets and in breast milk but there is no increase in docosahexaenoic acid (DHA; 22:6n-3), which may even decline in some pools at high LNA intakes. Stable isotope tracer studies indicate that conversion of LNA to EPA occurs but is limited in men and that further transformation to DHA is very low. The fractional conversion of LNA to the longer chain n-3 PUFA is greater in women which may be due to a regulatory effect of oestrogen. A lower proportion of LNA is used for -oxidation in women compared with men. Overall, LNA appears to be a limited source of longer chain n-3 PUFA in humans. Thus, adequate intakes of preformed long chain n-3 PUFA, in particular DHA, may be important for maintaining optimal tissue function. Capacity to up-regulate LNA conversion in women may be important for meeting the demands of the fetus and neonate for DHA.
Key words: n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids / humans / -linolenic acid / metabolism
Corresponding author: Graham C. Burdge G.C.Burdge@soton.ac.uk
© INRA, EDP Sciences 2005