, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 131-138

First online:

Effects of highly purified eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid on fatty acid absorption, incorporation into serum phospholipids and postprandial triglyceridemia

  • John-Bjarne HansenAffiliated withInstitute of Clinical Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Tromsø Email author 
  • , Sameline GrimsgaardAffiliated withInstitute of Community Medicine, University of Tromsø
  • , Hugo NilsenAffiliated withDepartment of Clinical Nutrition, Tromsø University Hospital
  • , Arne NordøyAffiliated withInstitute of Clinical Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Tromsø
  • , Kaare H. BønaaAffiliated withInstitute of Community Medicine, University of Tromsø

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Fourteen healthy volunteers were randomly allocated to receive 4 g highly purified ethyl esters of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) (95% pure, n=7) or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) (90% pure, n=7) daily for 5 wk in supplement to their ordinary diet. The n−3 fatty acids were given with a standard high-fat meal at the beginning and the end of the supplementation period. EPA and DHA induced a similar incorporation into chylomicrons which peaked 6 h after the meal. The relative uptake of EPA and DHA from the meal was >90% compared with the uptake of oleic acid. During absorption, there was no significant elongation or retroconversion of EPA or DHA in total chylomicron fatty acids. The concentration of EPA decreased by 13% and DHA by 62% (P<0.001) between 6 and 8 h after the meal. During the 5-wk supplementation period, EPA showed a more rapid and comprehensive increase in serum phospholipids than did DHA. DHA was retroconverted to EPA, whereas EPA was elongated to docosapentaenoic acid (DPA). The postprandial triglyceridemia was suppressed by 19 and 49% after prolonged intake of EPA and DHA, respectively, indicating that prolonged intake of DHA is equivalent to or even more efficient than that of EPA in lowering postprandial triglyceridemia. This study indicates that there are metabolic differences between EPA and DHA which may have implications for the use of n−3 fatty acids in preventive and clinical medicine.