Determinants of the conversion of dietary alpha-linolenic acid into EPA and DHA in humans.

P.L.L. Goyens, M.E. Spilker, P.L. Zock, M.B. Katan, R.P. Mensink

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingAbstractAcademic


Fish oil fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, C20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, C22:6n-3) are believed to prevent cardiac death and other diseases. The human body can convert alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, C18:3n-3) from plants into EPA and DHA, but the efficiency of this conversion is controversial. We used compartmental modelling to estimate the in vivo conversion of ALA into EPA, docosapentaenoic acid (DPA C22:5n-3) and DHA. During 28 days, twenty-nine healthy adults followed a diet providing about 7 percent of energy from linoleic acid (C18:2n-6) and 0.4 % from ALA. On day 19, subjects received a single bolus of 30 mg 13C-ALA and for the next eight days 10 mg twice daily. To estimate hepatic conversion of n-3 fatty acids a tracer model was developed based on the averaged 13C-data of the participants. A similar tracee model for unlabeled ALA was obtained using the averaged 12C values, the kinetic parameters derived from the tracer model, and mean ALA consumption. We found that that nearly 7% of dietary ALA was incorporated into plasma phospholipids. From this pool, 99.8% was converted into EPA, and 1 % into DPA and subsequently into DHA. Thus the conversion of alpha-linolenic acid into longer-chain polyunsaturates is limited. In addition it is uncertain whether internally produced fatty acids have the same health effects as fatty acids taken by mouth. Therefore the final test of the efficacy of alpha-linolenic acid in the prevention of cardiac death should be a clinical trial with hard end points. Such a trial is under way in the Netherlands
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAbstract book of XVth International Symposium on Drugs affecting lipid metabolism, Venice, Italy, 24-27 October, 2004
Place of PublicationVenice, Italy
Publication statusPublished - 2004
EventXVth International Symposium on Drugs affecting lipid metabolism (DALM) -
Duration: 24 Oct 200427 Oct 2004


ConferenceXVth International Symposium on Drugs affecting lipid metabolism (DALM)


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