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Proc Nutr Soc. 2011 Aug;70(3):342-50. doi: 10.1017/S002966511100084X.

Tracing the fate of dietary fatty acids: metabolic studies of postprandial lipaemia in human subjects.

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  • 1Oxford Centre for Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism, Churchill Hospital, Oxford, UK and Postgraduate Medical School, University of Surrey, Guildford, UK.


Most postprandial studies have investigated the response of a single meal, yet the ingestion of sequential meals is more typical in a Western society. The aim of this review is to explain how natural and stable isotope tracers of fatty acids have been used to investigate the metabolism of dietary fat after single and multiple meals, with a focus on in vivo measurements of adipose tissue metabolism. When stable isotope tracers are combined with arteriovenous difference measurements, very specific measurements of metabolic flux across tissues can be made. We have found that adipose tissue is a net importer of dietary fat for 5 h following a single test meal and for most of the day during a typical three-meal eating pattern. When dietary fat is cleared from plasma, some fatty acids 'spillover' into the plasma and contribute up to 50% of postprandial plasma NEFA concentrations. Therefore, plasma NEFA concentrations after a meal reflect the balance between intracellular and extracellular lipolysis in adipose tissue. This balance is altered after the acute ingestion of fructose. The enzyme lipoprotein lipase is a key modulator of fatty acid flux in adipose tissue and its rate of action is severely diminished in obese men. In conclusion, in vivo studies of human metabolism can quantify the way that adipose tissue fatty acid trafficking modulates plasma lipid concentrations. This has implications for the flux of fatty acids to tissues that are susceptible to ectopic fat deposition such as the liver and muscle.

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