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Effect of dietary docosahexaenoic acid on desaturation and uptake in vivo of isotope-labeled oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids by male subjects


The effect of dietary docosahexaenoic acid (22∶6n−3, DHA) on the metabolism of oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids was investigated in male subjects (n=6) confined to a metabolic unit and fed diets containing 6.5 or <0.1 g/d of DHA for 90 d. At the end of the diet period, the subjects were fed a mixture of deuterated triglycerides containing 18∶1n−9[d6], 18∶2n−6[d2], and 18∶3n−3[d4]. Blood samples were drawn at 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, 24, 48, and 72 h. Methyl esters of plasma total lipids, triglycerides, phospholipids, and cholesterol esters were analyzed by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Chylomicron triglyceride results show that the deuterated fatty acids were equally well absorbed and diet did not influence absorption. Compared to the low-DHA diet (LO-DHA), clearance of the labeled fatty acids from chylomicron triglycerides was modestly higher for subjects fed the high DHA diet (HI-DHA). DHA supplementation significantly reduced the concentrations of most n-6[d2] and n-3[d4] long-chain fatty acid (LCFA) metabolites in plasma lipids. Accumulation of 20∶5n−3[d4] and 22∶6n−3[d4] was depressed by 76 and 88%, respectively. Accumulations of 20∶3n−6[d2] and 20∶4n−6[d2] were both decreased by 72%. No effect of diet was observed on acyltransferase selectivity or on uptake and clearance of 18∶1n−9[d6], 18∶2n−6[d2], and 18∶3n−3[d4]. The results indicate that accumulation of n−3 LCFA metabolites synthesized from 18∶3n−3 in typical U.S. diets would be reduced from about 120 to 30 mg/d by supplementation with 6.5 g/d of DHA. Accumulation of n−6 LCFA metabolites synthesized from 18∶2n−6 in U.S. diets is estimated to be reduced from about 800 to 180 mg/d. This decrease is two to three times the amount of n−6 LCFA in a typical U.S. diet. These results support the hypothesis that health benefits associated with DHA supplementation are the combined result of reduced accretion of n−6 LCFA metabolites and an increase in n−3 LCFA levels in tissue lipids.

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18-carbon chain length


docosahexaenoic acid


eicosapentaenoic acid


gas chromatography


high docosahexaenoic acid diet


long-chain fatty acid


low docosahexaenoic acid diet


mass spectroscopy


thin-layer chromatography


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Correspondence to E. A. Emken.

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Emken, E.A., Adlof, R.O., Duval, S.M. et al. Effect of dietary docosahexaenoic acid on desaturation and uptake in vivo of isotope-labeled oleic, linoleic, and linolenic acids by male subjects. Lipids 34, 785–791 (1999).

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  • Cholesterol Ester
  • Label Fatty Acid
  • Dietary Arachidonic Acid
  • Plasma Cholesterol Ester
  • Plasma Lipid Class