Long-chain n−3 PUFA: plant v. marine sources
Williams, C. M. and Burdge, G. (2006) Long-chain n−3 PUFA: plant v. marine sources. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 65 (1). pp. 42-50. ISSN 0029-6651
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To link to this article DOI: 10.1079/PNS2005473
Increasing recognition of the importance of the long-chain n-3 PUFA, EPA and DHA, to cardiovascular health, and in the case of DHA to normal neurological development in the fetus and the newborn, has focused greater attention on the dietary supply of these fatty acids. The reason for low intakes of EPA and DHA in most developed countries (0 center dot 1-0 center dot 5hairspg/d) is the low consumption of oily fish, the richest dietary source of these fatty acids. An important question is whether dietary intake of the precursor n-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid (alpha LNA), can provide sufficient amounts of tissue EPA and DHA by conversion through the n-3 PUFA elongation-desaturation pathway. alpha LNA is present in marked amounts in plant sources, including green leafy vegetables and commonly-consumed oils such as rape-seed and soyabean oils, so that increased intake of this fatty acid would be easier to achieve than via increased fish consumption. However, alpha LNA-feeding studies and stable-isotope studies using alpha LNA, which have addressed the question of bioconversion of alpha LNA to EPA and DHA, have concluded that in adult men conversion to EPA is limited (approximately 8%) and conversion to DHA is extremely low (< 0 center dot 1%). In women fractional conversion to DHA appears to be greater (9%), which may partly be a result of a lower rate of utilisation of alpha LNA for beta-oxidation in women. However, up-regulation of the conversion of EPA to DHA has also been suggested, as a result of the actions of oestrogen on Delta 6-desaturase, and may be of particular importance in maintaining adequate provision of DHA in pregnancy. The effect of oestrogen on DHA concentration in pregnant and lactating women awaits confirmation.