Author(s): Burdge G
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Abstract PURPOSE OF REVIEW: This review critically evaluates current knowledge of alpha-linolenic acid metabolism in adult humans based on the findings of studies using stable isotope tracers and on increased dietary alpha-linolenic acid intake. The relative roles of alpha-linolenic acid and of longer-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in cell structure and function are discussed together with an overview of the major metabolic fates of alpha-linolenic acid. The extent of partitioning towards beta-oxidation and carbon recycling in humans is described. The use and limitations of stable isotope tracers to estimate alpha-linolenic acid desaturation and elongation are discussed. A consensus view of the extent of alpha-linolenic acid conversion to longer-chain fatty acids in humans is presented. The extent to which increasing dietary alpha-linolenic acid intake alters the concentrations of longer-chain n-3 fatty acids is described. The biological and nutritional implications of these findings are discussed. RECENT FINDINGS: Conversion of alpha-linolenic acid to eicosapentaenoic acid is limited in men and further transformation to docosahexaenoic acid is very low. A lower proportion of alpha-linolenic acid is used as a substrate for beta-oxidation in women compared with men, while the fractional conversion to longer-chain fatty acids is greater, possibly due to the regulatory effects of oestrogen. SUMMARY: Overall, alpha-linolenic acid appears to be a limited source of longer-chain n-3 fatty acids in man and so adequate intakes of preformed n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, in particular docosahexaenoic acid, may be important for maintaining optimal tissue function. Capacity to upregulate alpha-linolenic acid transformation in women may be important for meeting the demands of the fetus and neonate for docosahexaenoic acid.
This article was published in Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care
and referenced in Journal of Cancer Science & Therapy