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Br J Nutr. 1999 Dec;82(6):481-8.

Incorporation and washout of orally administered n-3 fatty acid ethyl esters in different plasma lipid fractions.

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Institute of Internal Medicine II, Erasmus University of Rotterdam, The Netherlands.


The aim of the present study was to quantify the incorporation of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) into plasma lipids after oral administration of n-3 fatty acid ethyl esters, since little is known about the rate and pattern of incorporation into plasma lipid fractions. In addition, we aimed to obtain preliminary information regarding EPA half-life, which is needed to establish an optimal dosing schedule. Five healthy volunteers ingested two 8.5 g doses of n-3 fatty acid ethyl esters daily for 7 d, supplying 6.0 g EPA/d and 5.3 g DHA/d. The fatty acid compositions of plasma phospholipids (PL), cholesteryl esters (CE) and triacylglycerols (TAG) were determined during supplementation and during a washout period of 7 d. Half-lives of EPA and DHA were calculated. The proportion of EPA in PL showed a 15-fold increase after 7 d (P < 0.001), while DHA showed a smaller increase (P < 0.01). In CE, EPA also increased (P < 0.05), while DHA did not increase at all. Remarkably, incorporation of DHA into TAG was even higher than that of EPA. Half-life of EPA in PL ranged from 1.63 to 2.31 d (mean 1.97 (SE 0.15) d), whereas mean half-life of EPA in CE was 3.27 (SE 0.56) d. In three subjects, washout of EPA and DHA from TAG seemed to follow a bi-exponential pattern, with a short half-life (< 1 d) in the initial phase and a half-life of several days in the second phase. In conclusion, EPA ethyl esters are rapidly incorporated into plasma lipids, especially into PL. The relatively long half-life of EPA in plasma would permit a dosing schedule with intervals of > or = 12 h in supplementation studies.

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